Though the origin of the word Halloween is Christian, some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, in honour of the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead, Parentalia, although it is more typically linked to Samhain, the Celtic festival, which comes from the Old Irish for ‘summer’s end’. This was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) calendar, held on or about 31 October / 1 November to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. This was a time to prepare for the cold months ahead when cattle were brought back from the pastures and livestock were slaughtered. Bonfires were lit and rituals performed, some hint that they may once have involved human sacrifice. Samhain was seen as a time when the ‘door’ to the ‘otherworld’ opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings such as fairies, to come into our world. Feasts were held, at which the souls of dead relatives were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them.
Halloween is also thought to have been influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows, Hallowmas or Hallowtide) on 1 November, and All Souls’ Day on 2 November. These were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven. All Saints was introduced in the year 609, and was originally celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter). In 835, it was switched to 1 November (the same date as Samhain) at the command of Pope Gregory IV.
Spread to North America
North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there, the Puritans of New England, for example maintained strong opposition to Halloween. It was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that Halloween was brought to North America in earnest. However, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and, by the first decade of the 20th century, was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.
Today, typical Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as ‘guising’ or dressing-up), attending fancy dress parties, carving pumpkins into jack-‘o-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted places, playing pranks, telling scary stories and watching horror films. Over recent years, Halloween has become increasing popular in Menorca as more people enter into the ‘spirit’ of the event with shops selling a wide variety of spooky things to decorate the home, wear and eat, and Halloween parties, both private and public, taking place around the island. During this time, it is traditional to eat both sweet and savory ‘buñuelos’ (doughnuts) as well as ‘panellets’ (small cakes made mainly of marzipan, often coved with pine nuts), loved by both children and adults. Chestnuts and sweet potatoes are also in abundance.
El Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints’ Day)
El Día de Todos Los Santos is a Public Holiday in Menorca and thoughout Spain, and is celebrated in Christian countries throughout the world to honor all saints, known and unknown. Every day of the year has its own saint, but there are more saints than calendar days and this is one major holy day for people to remember all the great and forgotten men and women through the ages and the martyrs who dedicated or sacrificed their lives to Christianity, including those who had died in a state of grace but had not been canonised.
In Western Christianity, All Saints’ Day is commemorated on 1 November and is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries, when people visit the graves and remember their loved ones. In Eastern Christianity, it is recognised on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
Background: According to some sources, the idea for All Saints’ Day goes back to the fourth century when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost (between mid May and early June) in honor of all martyrs and saints. Other sources say that a commemoration of ‘All Martyrs’ began to be celebrated as early as 270 AD but no specific month or date is recorded. Pope Gregory IV made All Saints’ Day an authorised holiday in 837 AD. It is speculated that the chosen date, 1 November, may have been an attempt to replace Samhain, the Celtic pagan festival of the dead to mark the end of harvest and onset of winter (a sheath of wheat being one of the symbols). Celebrated globally, All Saints’ Day is closely linked with All Souls’ Day, which was first introduced in Cluny in 993 AD and quickly spread throughout the Christian world, as well as with Halloween, a shortening of the name ‘All Hallows’ Evening’.
All Saints’ Day around the world
Although traditions vary around the world, in many countries, including Spain and Menorca, it is also customary on All Saint’s Day to visit and take flowers to the graves of deceased relatives. In some countries, people also take this opportunity to clean and repair the graves of their dear departed as well as place lighted candles on and around them. In the Philippines, this ritual could go on all night with people bringing food, drink and music, so much so that the government has had to ban alcohol and sharp instruments. In France, church services in memory of all saints and men and women of ‘good will’ are held during 1 November, but by the evening the focus turns towards the dead, when cemeteries everywhere are crowded with people who come to clean and decorate family graves. All Saints’ Day is closely tied with All Souls’ Day, held on 2 November, which is dedicated to prayers of the dead who are not yet glorified.
All Souls’ Day
This is celebrated on 2 November (or 3rd if the 2nd is a Sunday), and is a time for families to remember their departed and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory, the place (or state) where those who have died atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven (the ‘beatific vision’). The reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from minor sins and through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls to reach eternal sublime happiness.