THE WAY I SEE IT #17 : By Darren Murphy

editorial image

HALLOWEEN is big business in the UK, in fact it’s absolutely huge, and retail analysts expect Brits to have spent a whopping £315 million on all things spooky this year. If you compare this figure to the £12million we forked out as a nation in 2001, you will agree it’s a fair old hike. It’s actually an increase of more than £30million a year. Corporate greed has ensured that Halloween has become a commercially-driven beast of seismic proportions.

However, there is far more to Halloween than dressing up as a skeleton and guising, the latter, of course, the Scottish word for trick or treating. Indeed, the roots of Halloween are ancient and we have to backtrack around 2,000 years to find its origins, to a time when the people of the UK, Ireland and northern France were known as the Celts.

Samhain was a Pagan festival which signalled the end of summer, the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. To the Pagan Celts it also marked the end of the year and a night to honour the dead. By honour I mean they probably feasted and got boozed up on mead, a honey-based alcoholic drink, before slaughtering an animal in sacrifice to the gods. Folks back then believed that on this particular night before they moved into the New Year, the worlds between the living and the dead would become one.

I don’t know about you but if I was part of community with this belief I would be quite fearful of what the night ahead might bring! During Samhain, a large central bonfire would be lit in homage to Pagan gods and home fires would be extinguished to make the home unattractive to evil spirits. It is even said many of the Pagan Celts would wear animal skulls on their heads to disguise themselves from spirits heading their way.

I find it amazing how a Pagan festival from an estimated 2,000 years ago is still around today, although it has, of course, evolved in many ways and adapted to different eras. It amazes me even more when I consider the fact that during the First Century AD and the Romanization of Britain, Paganism was all but wiped out. Then the spread of Christianity to the Roman civilization and the Celtic tribes was another threat to Samhain, yet still it was celebrated, much to the disgust of the Christian church which even invented its own holidays to try and prevent Christians from celebrating a festival with Pagan roots.

Our American cousins are credited with being the inventors of modern-day trick or treating and rightly so. Yet could they possibly have taken their influence from the Celts, whom are said to have been visited by fairies dressed as beggars at Samhain? It’s rumoured that those who gave the fairies food were rewarded and those that didn’t were punished. Jack-o-lanterns, which are commonplace during modern Halloween festivities, even owe their existence to the Pagan Celts, who used hollowed-out turnips to carry an ember from sacred bonfires, which they would use to light their own fires. It was widely believed among the Celts that this practice would keep them safe and ward off any unwanted spirits.

Halloween may now be largely different from this ancient Pagan festival; however, there is no denying the influence history has had on the second most productive commercial event of the year, behind Christmas. It may no longer hold the same amount of religious or supernatural importance, but one thing is certain, it’s still a magical time of the year and great fun for the kids. So if your children arrived home with a small fortune and a pocketful of treats the other night, there is no doubt in my mind, they owe it to the Celts who created Samhain.