Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Halloween, What it’s really about?

Autumn is a time that many people enjoy: the beautiful autumnal views, the return of jumper weather, bonfire night and of course, Halloween. Halloween is usually a time for people to dress up in horrendous outfits (some terrifying, others not so much) and provides an excuse to have parties. However, as much fun as dressing up is, what is Halloween actually about?

Halloween falls between Autumn and Winter, the time between life and death, the time when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest.

Halloween is thought to have originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. To commemorate such an event, the Druids would build sacred bonfires. People would gather to make sacrifices to the Celtic Deities, burning crops and animals. The Celts wore costumes, which mostly consisted of animal heads and skins (gruesome, I know) and then attempted to tell each other what the future would bring to them. Celts believed that, on the night of October 31st, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, causing trouble amongst them and damaging their crops. The presence of these otherworldly spirits made it easier for Druids or Celtic priests to make predictions of the future. These people were heavily dependant on these prophecies and acted as a source of information and comfort during the long nights that the winter brought.

Celts believed that, on the night of October 31st, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, causing trouble amongst them and damaging their crops

Later on in history, the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic lands, and Roman festivals were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

On the second day, the Romans celebrated Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees – this is where the tradition of ‘apple bobbing’ comes from. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with the older Celtic rites. Later on in history Pope Gregory stated that November 1st was a time to honour all saints and martyrs; this day was known as ‘All Saint’s Day,’ which incorporated a few of the traditions from Samhain. The ‘All Saint’s Day’ celebration was also called ‘All-hallows’ or ‘All-Hallowmas’ and the night before (the traditional night of Samhain) began to be called ‘All-hallows Eve,’ which eventually became Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday that is filled with mystery, magic, and superstition. People would leave food outside for deceased family and friends and set places for them at the table. The candles would help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. People avoid walking across the path of a black cat, afraid that it’ll bring us bad luck. We avoid breaking mirrors and stepping on cracks and hold the belief that anything could happen on the night of Halloween.