2010-10-30 00:00

HALLOWEEN has become increasingly popular in South Africa in the last decade. Maybe this is because of Hollywood’s encroachment on South African culture, or perhaps people just like dressing up. According to an article on, it may be because there is a developing interest in the supernatural and a desire to search for a truth that neither science nor religion provides.

For those still in the dark, Halloween occurs on October 31 every year and is a public holiday in the United States.

Susan Spencer, a Pietermaritzburg resident, has been celebrating Halloween for the last three years.

“We found our neighbours to be warm and responsive and even enthusiastic [to trick-or-treating children].

“We often bump into other groups and somehow feel safer walking around the neighbourhood at night on Halloween, which we probably wouldn’t do normally.”

Many believe Halloween celebrates the devil’s birthday and there have been instances were homeowners have set dogs on trick-or-treaters.

The festivities have also become highly commercialised and seem to have little connection with their origins.

In Italy, Catholic parishioners are celebrating “Holyween” instead — by hanging pictures of saints in honour of All Saint’s Day.

ACCORDING to New York Daily News, this year’s most wanted Halloween costume is Lady Gaga’s meat dress. While shops provided no help in finding the right cuts, a meat carver in New York has risen up to the challenge and offered his assistance in making the meaty design for the price of just $1 000 (R7 000).

Said Pietermaritzburg shop owner Teresa Turner, “The most popular costumes are witches and vampires.” Turner has sold costumes, masks and accessories in her Victoria Road store, Bed and Foam, for over 10 years and says the interest in Halloween is growing every year. The timeless vampire look has been increasingly popularised by vampire flicks such as the Twilight series


True Blood and

Vampire Diaries. reports that other top costume-characters are Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Snooki. Star Wars characters are still big, as well as are Avatar,

Alice in Wonderland and Hannah Montana.

HALLOWEEN originated in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales from the ancient religion of the Celts.

Very conscious of the spiritual world, the Celtic people believed that on the night before the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (which celebrates the end of summer), the barriers between their world and the spiritual world thinned, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to wander freely down their streets “and sometimes violently interfere in their affairs” (Celtic mythology).

As a way of playing it safe, people dress as harmful spirits to disguise themselves and avoid harm by blending in.

SOME attribute trick or treat to Samhain where frightened Celtic villagers would place gifts or treats to appease the wandering spirits.

Others trace it to the medieval practice of “souling”, which was developed in Europe. Beggars would go door to door begging for “soul cakes” made from bread and currants and promise to pray for the donors’ dead relatives in exchange. It was believed that the dead remain in limbo until prayer provides a passage for them to go to heaven.

The custom is popular today among children who go door to door asking “trick or treat?” “Trick” can either refer to things the children have to do to get a “treat” (such as sing); things that the householders have to do if they have nothing to give (such as stick their hands into a bottle of jelly) or some form of mischief that the children would do to the householders or property if not given a treat.

THE most commonly known jack-o-lantern is a pumpkin with a scary face. However, turnips or beetroots were originally used by the Irish to fashion into a jack-o-lantern (an ancient symbol of a damned soul and the festival light of Halloween). As a result of the potato famine in 1848, the Irish emigrated to America, taking with them the customs of Halloween.

In America, the Irish were unable to find turnips but found an abundance of pumpkins instead.

—; ancienthis; and

WHEN Christianity spread through parts of Europe, the pagan custom was developed to “reflect a more Christian world-view”.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints’ Day (celebrated on May 13th) on which saints and martyrs were honoured.

This was moved to November 1 in 834 AD by Gregory III and became an opportunity for Christians to remember those who had passed on. October 31 became All Hallow’s Even (‘hallow’ meaning ‘saint’ in Old English) which was frequently spelt ‘Hallow E’en’. This tradition continued to be celebrated as a “time of the wandering dead”.

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