Hallowe’en, or All Hallows’ Eve, is the night before All Saints’ Day, (1st November) when Christians honour those who have died and remember them by celebrating their lives. Hallow (or hallowed) means holy or sacred; ‘Hallowe’en’ is derived from the compression of All Hallows’ Even.
The celebration originates more than 2000 years ago, when the Celtic druids occupied Great Britain and some parts of Europe. They celebrated what is now called the pagan festival of Samhain, which signified the end of summer and the onset of winter. Dark and cold winter days often had associations with death.
It was believed that on the night of Samhain the cloak between the spirit world and the living was but a thin veil, allowing the dead to rise up and come forth from their graves. Huge bonfires were lit to assist the fading sun god and the people would disguise themselves so as not to be recognized. Gradually, witches, vampires, demons, werewolves and fairies were also thought to emerge with the darkness of winter to join the spirits of the dead in a night of revelry.
In a case of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, the Church introduced, in 835, All Saints’ Day and thus Hallowe’en replaced Samhain. Certain superstitions around this magical night led to games and traditions long before the American creation of ‘trick or treat’. Girls would place hazel nuts on a hot grate and give each the name of a potential husband. She would recite, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” A variant decrees any cracked nuts indicated those suitors who were fickle.
Other games have their origins in Hallowe’en rituals, such as throwing the complete peel of an apple over a shoulder to reveal the initial of a girl’s true love. The practice of setting her shoes in the form of a ‘T’ (in Scandinavia a strong talisman representing the hammer of Thor, the god of thunder, agriculture and the home) on Hallowe’en, and reciting the words, “Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a ‘T’.” would ensure she dreamed of her future love. It was also on All Hallows’ Eve when a girl hoped to see in her mirror a candlelight reflection of her future husband.
A more sombre ritual was that of building a bonfire on a barrow or burial mound, since these were thought to be portals to the spirit world. Once it was blazing, the locals would hold hands and dance around it. Often as not, young boys took burning branches and ran across the fields, waving them like torches. Then, when the flames had died down, the lads would have a jumping contest over the glowing embers, all the children would bob for apples and the adults would dance until bedtime.
So, on a night of magic when the spirits of the dead awaken and supernatural beings dance to a pagan drum, if you prefer your vampires romantic rather than terrifying creatures of darkness, perhaps you would rather curl up with some honourable, eternal, gentlemen. In celebration of Hallowe’en, VAMPIRES DON’T DRINK COFFEE AND OTHER STORIES is on offer at just 99 pence or 99 cents!
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