We explain what Halloween is, its origin and how it became popular. Also, what are the symbols that represent it and its traditions.

Halloween is a popular festival of Anglo-Saxon origin that spreads throughout the world.

What is Halloween?

Halloween or Hallowe'en is the English name of a popular holiday also known as the Night of the Dead, the Eve of All Saints or the Night of Witches. Normally, this celebration involves sinister or horror costumes and decorations, linked to the world of the dead and witches, and is celebrated every year on the night of October 31.

The name of this celebration is the contraction of All Hallows' Evening, that is, "the eve of all saints", since it is celebrated on the night before All Saints' Day, according to the calendar of the Western Christian Church. It is a festival typical of Anglo-Saxon nations, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Australia and New Zealand. It has also become popular, by cultural contagion, in Spain and in many Latin American nations.

The current variants of Halloween tend to respond to the more commercial and secular modes of celebration, especially in the United States, with costumes, parties and trick-or-treating (that is, “sweet or joke”: ask the neighbors for some sweet to eat under threat of mischief if they do not agree). However, in many countries traditional practices such as carrying candles to the graves of the deceased or refraining from eating meat on that evening are still carried out.

Halloween origin

The exact origin of this celebration is uncertain, but everything indicates that it is an inheritance from the ancient Celtic cultures of Great Britain and Ireland, which celebrated Samhain on that date, the end of summer and end of the year festival, of according to your schedule. On that date, the ancient Celts fired Lugh, the god of the sun, and they believed that in its absence the dead could briefly return to Earth. So, to drive them away, they lit big fires and wore ritual masks and costumes, so as not to be recognized by the evil spirits.

The romanization of these European regions caused the Celtic tradition of Samhain to be mixed with many Latin rites such as the Feralia and the Pomona: the first in honor of the Manes, chthonic deities equivalent to the souls of the recently deceased; the second in honor of the goddess Pomona, who was asked for the abundance of crops.

The subsequent Christianization of the continent frowned on these types of festivals, and it is possible that they wanted to replace them with the celebration of All Saints' Day every November 1. But in the medieval the traditions pagan Y monotheists they intermingled regularly, and the Protestant Reformation weakened papal authority in the northern European kingdoms, allowing Halloween to continue to be celebrated.

Halloween symbols

Scarecrows reflect the agricultural origin of Halloween.

Currently, the Halloween party is associated with different symbols, many of which come from medieval tradition, while others have been incorporated in recent times. The main symbols of Halloween are:

  • The pumpkins. These fruits are associated with Halloween due to the custom Anglo-Saxon way of emptying them of their content, sculpting a face on their surfaces and then placing a candle inside, to use them as a sinister decorative object.This symbol recalls a character from Irish tradition known as Jack O'lantern either jack-o'-lantern ("Jack the lantern"), who according to the story was a very cunning miser who managed to escape from the devil, keeping two embers from hell inside a vegetable, to use as a lantern.
  • The bats, the spiders and the cobweb. Spider webs are part of the commercial decoration of Halloween, as a symbol of old and abandoned, since these animals usually make their nests in rarely frequented places, such as cemeteries and abandoned houses. The same happens with bats, animals that usually live in caves, buildings under construction and other desolate places.
  • The witches and black cats. Halloween night is also known as Witches' Night, probably because it was considered since ancient times as a propitious time for divination and futurology, since it was the end of the year in the Celtic calendar. And the witches, contribution of the Christianity medieval to the imaginary of Halloween, they were precisely sinister women who made deals with demons and obtained from them the power for sorcery and divination. Black cats were associated with witches, either because they could take their form or because they were their confidants in the dark arts.
  • The scarecrows. Since Halloween was originally a celebration tied to the end of the summer and of the time of harvest, the scarecrow continues today to be one of its traditional icons, often combined with the pumpkin (especially if the scarecrow has it for a head). These figures, so common in farm fields, take on a sinister connotation on the eve of All Souls' Day.
  • The skulls and ghosts.As in other celebrations of the Day of the Dead, on Halloween skulls, skeletons and ghosts are present in their most conventional representation, as emblems of the spirits that are loose throughout that night.

Halloween traditions

Sinister costumes and masks are popular Halloween traditions.

Halloween traditions can vary from place to place, especially as the tradition reinvents itself in modern times, gaining and losing elements. However, some of its core traditions are:

  • Gastronomy of Halloween. The typical Halloween kitchen usually gives sweets a prominent role, through the preparation of sweet or caramel apples, and fruit cakes. Corn is also a common element, especially in the agricultural regions of the United States, as well as the ubiquitous pumpkin, although the latter is not necessarily part of the diet, but to make the typical decorations.
  • The use of disguises. The tradition of dressing up on Halloween has a long history, although in recent times it has become something that is mostly done by children, wearing costumes of their characters fashion fictitious, such as superheroes, movie characters or the like.
  • trick-or-treatingtrick-or-treating). It is usual that, throughout the night of Halloween, costumed children visit their nearby neighbors to ask for sweets and trinkets, using the voice of “trick or treat!” ("trick or treat"). Children are supposed to embody mischievous spirits who, if they do not receive an offering, bewitch and harass the family.
  • The decoration of the houses. It is usual for houses to be decorated for the occasion on Halloween, using not only pumpkins, but also other implements that make them look like sinister or haunted places. It is not unusual for neighbors to dress up as well and try to scare visiting children.Orange, purple and black colors abound in these decorations.

How did Halloween become popular?

The popularity of Halloween in the world is due to the influence and massification of American culture, especially through Hollywood and other international cultural industries. The presence of Halloween in films and American series is very common, to the point that there is a horror saga with the same name.

This has caused the festival to spread to countries outside the Anglo-Saxon culture, such as the Latin American nations. For example:

  • Halloween in Mexico. The celebration of Halloween in Mexico is quite limited, since there is a strong traditional identity in this country around the Day of the Dead, celebrated every year on November 2. However, Halloween has become a popular holiday among the younger generations, due to the closeness and influence of American culture. So in this culture, a more commercial celebration (Halloween) and a more traditional one coexist, each in its own way.
  • Halloween in Brazil. Halloween in Brazil has become a popular festival among youth, but it does not have the same value as in the United States and other Anglo-Saxon nations. The decorations often mimic American fashion, with cobwebs, bats and skulls, but those who celebrate this holiday are usually young adults who attend costume parties at nightclubs, and not kids looking for candy in your neighborhood.
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