Halloween as we know it today is in many ways an invention of the 1970s and 1980s, largely imported from the USA. But its roots run far deeper as a medieval Christian festival, the eve of All Saints’ day or Hallowmas (1 Nov) and All Souls day (2 Nov), on which candles were lit and bells rung as an aid to souls that lingered in purgatory.
|Edgar, NT Pumpkin Support Coordinator|
After the Reformation the Christian festival of Halloween faded away in many parts of the country. By the early 20th century Guy Fawkes night had assumed pre-eminence for many, although ‘punkie night’ continued to feature in some places, and involved the parading of lanterns made out of root vegetables. In other parts this time of year was known for ‘souling’, when people would visit each other to present soul-cakes as commemorations of the dead. Elsewhere, 31 October was also known as Mischief Night (Miggy Night in Yorkshire), when tricks were played on neighbours by knocking on their doors and running away, or swapping over the signs outside shops.
So if you are out trick or treating tonight, remember that there is more to this than simply a commercialised import from America – underlying it is a tradition stretching back more than a millennium, to mark a time of year when the spirit world was deemed closer than usual to its earthly counterpart.
There’s plenty of spooking happenings at National Trust places too, from the scary trails at Sheringham and Peckover to Pumpking Carving at Dunstable, Sutton Hoo and Wimpole and Batty Halloween at Hatfield and Wicken Fen. It all sounds fantastic half-term fun!
(This based on Steve Roud's The English Year (2006))