It’s That Time of Year Again!
A night filled with magic and fantasy, Halloween is one of the oldest holidays in the world, dating back to Samhain, the ancient Gaelic harvest festival celebrated some 2,000 yrs. ago in Celtic countries. Every year, the Celts would celebrate their new year on Nov. 1, marking the end of summer and the beginning of the long, harsh winter, a time where many would die. On their new year’s eve, Oct. 31, they believed there was a blurred line between the world of the living and the dead. Large bonfires were built for the sacrifice of animals and the burning of crops and everyone would dress up in animal heads and skins as a disguise from ghosts whom they believed they would run into once they left their homes. People thought that if they wore masks while out, the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits. Bowls of food were left outside the house so the ghosts were pleased and wouldn’t enter. Druids, the Celtic priests, could predict the future on that night.
By the 9th century, Samhain became merged with All Saints' Day (also called All-hallows or All-Hallowmas) and All Souls' Day which were celebrated on Nov.2. However, since traditionally the Celts’ Samhain was celebrated on Oct.31, the festival that night became “All-hallows Eve”, and then “Halloween”.
All Soul’s Day, or “Day of the dead” (“Día de los Muertos”), is still celebrated today over the course of 3 days (Oct. 31 to Nov. 2) in Mexico and other Latin American countries. The celebration honours the dead whom, it is believed, return to their earthly homes on Halloween. Altars are constructed for them and decorated with candy, flowers, photos, favorite food and drink samples, and fresh water. People dress up in very creative costumes often of skeletons with skull-shaped sweets, tequila, family feasts, big parades and mariachi music are all part of the affair.
In the US, it is a billion dollar industry- Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually, with people splurging on candy, costumes, pumpkins, and decorations. It’s estimated that a quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween. Everyone dresses up in creative costumes and attends costume parties while children go from door to door trick-or-treating, a tradition which began in the states as an affordable way for the whole community to celebrate Halloween. Some say this tradition goes back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England where poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them “soul cakes” in return for prayers for the family’s dead relatives, a practice known as “going a-souling”. Today, it’s more of a somewhat self-indulgent way for children to have fun and get free candy while the adults seize the opportunity for a fun night out and to explore their darker sides.
Like other European countries, France has been gradually welcoming the Halloween trend though it’s still nowhere near as popular as it is in the US. Since Nov.1, All Saint’s Day (La Toussaint), is a national holiday, people can go out and party on Halloween night till late hours. Limoges in particular has the biggest Halloween parade with thousands of people showing up in costumes and bar-hopping, with ghosts, ghouls and goblins bearing candlelit pumpkins. In Paris, Disneyland celebrates it in a kid-friendly way by turning “Main Street” into “Spook Street” while the American Dream Diner hosts a Halloween-themed party that night. Nice also hosts grand Halloween parties and celebrations in all the best bars and clubs.
In Lebanon, the local version of Halloween is traditionally known as “The Feast of Saint Barbara” and is celebrated December 4th of every year across the region and involves masks and the offering of sweets and wheat. The holiday celebrates the life of Saint Barbara who was said to have lived in 4th century Roman-ruled Heliopolis, a region now known as Baalbek in Lebanon. The tradition is to dress up in costumes and masks (to commemorate Barbara’s disguise to escape persecution) and visit neighbours, trick-or-treating and chanting a song for her, while hitting a local, large drum to announce their arrival. They used to be given the Burbara dish (a bowl of wheat grains, raisins, pomegranate seeds, anise and sugar) as she was said to have fled across wheat fields that magically grew behind her to hide her tracks. Today, sweets are more often given as in Halloween in the US. Similarly, the US Halloween has a major influence here as on October 31st, parties are held all across town in schools, restaurants and clubs with people dressing up and having fun.
Fun Fact: The Top 5 Adult Costumes for 2016 were either a superhero character, a witch/ vampire, a sort of animal, a pirate, or a politician.