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Halloween’s Haunted History


Like a surprising number of modern customs, celebrating Halloween has its roots in pagan harvest rituals. The Irish Celtic festival known as Samhain would involve the lighting of bonfires at the close of the harvest season on November 1st to ward off evil spirits, which were believed responsible for a poor harvest. The Celts were also accustomed to donning frightening costumes and carving terrifying visages into vegetables, such as turnips, as way of confusing the spirits into thinking they were encountering powerful demons.


More Tricks Than Kicks

It was believed that during this season the link between the physical and spiritual worlds was at its weakest. Spirits would venture into the world and had to be appeased with gifts of food and drink so that they would refrain from poisoning crops. From here we obtained the tradition of ‘trick-or-treating’, which remains popular amongst kids to this day. The name, ‘Halloween’ is a corruption of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, itself an English translation from the Gaelic. ‘Hallowed’ being the term for ‘honoured holy one’ and ‘Eve’ stemming from the Old English contraction of ‘Evening’ to ‘E’en’. During the 8th Century, the Catholic Church decreed that the first day of November would become ‘All Saints’ Day’ (or All Hallow’s Day), moving the celebration of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ back one day to the end of October.


Slashing Pumpkins

While the tradition of turnip carving originates in

antiquity, it was only with Irish immigration into America did folk begin to adopt the pumpkin as the symbol of Halloween. Simply put, pumpkins were endemic in the Americas, and with softer flesh than turnips for carving, this new tradition was widely embraced. Known as ‘Jack-o-Lanterns’, they became a Halloween tradition during the 19th Century. The origins of the name derive from the Gothic folktale of Stingy Jack, who was cursed to roam the Earth for all time after cheating the devil. To ward off old Jack and his curse, the Irish would adorn their properties with menacing carved pumpkins on Halloween.


Fate Food

Yet another Irish custom from the Halloween season is the baking of what is known as 'barmbrack' or ‘fortune bread’. This is a sweet yeasted dough into which items such as rings, coins or effigies of infants are baked. The receiver of these hidden treasures would then be blessed with a related fortune, be it marriage, money or pregnancy. Meanwhile in Australia, Halloween is not as widely celebrated as in many other parts of the world, but has grown in popularity in recent years. According to research conducted by the Australian Retailers Association in 2022, 1 in 4 people surveyed plan to celebrate Halloween.

Activities such as historic ghost tours of ‘haunted’ locations see a spike in popularity around this time of year. Also, costume shops tend to do their best trade at Halloween, and it’s not unusual to see thematic decorations on people’s homes. Also, Australian cinemas often have Halloween themed movie marathons, with eternal spooky favourites such as A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Exorcist typically on offer.


Local kids embracing their dark sides in a bid to earn some much coveted Halloween treats

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