Word for Wednesday: Halloween

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Those brave enough to venture from their homes over the next few nights can expect to encounter ghouls, zombies, specters and a whole host of other things macabre.

This week’s word for Wednesday is Halloween, where did the word originate from and why do we practice such a bizarre tradition.

Let’s begin with how the word came about…

The celebration of Halloween in the Christian calendar itself marks the eve of All Saints Day, also known as ‘All Hallows’ – recognition and feast dedicated to saints known and unknown.

Halloween is a Scottish contraction of ‘All Hallow’s’ and ‘Evening’, evening was often shortened to –‘een’ or –‘e’en’ hence the occasional spelling Hallowe’en which is more faithful to its Scottish roots.

Essentially, Halloween is a remembrance for the departed. Research suggests that the modern Christian Halloween is inspired by early Celtic harvest festivals. At this time they believed that ‘Summer’s end’ was a time where faeries and spirits were more easily able to enter our world.

It was said that on the eve of November the restless souls of the departed would stir; the boundaries between the living and the dead blurred for one night. This ancient idea is present in many other world cultures, particularly Japanese and Russian.

The connection with the macabre and the costumed festivities are also long-standing but are certainly influenced by the sudden popularity of Halloween in early 20th century America. Were the costumes historically intended to appease malevolent spirits or to fend them off?

How about this traditional Irish Halloween lantern?

The topic of Halloween opens up many interesting subjects: folklore, festivities, religion and, of course the macabre.

The myths that surround the history ‘Jack o’ lanterns’ (pumpkin lanterns) is compelling, but perhaps one for another time…

Hugh MacDermott

30 Oct 2013
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