Halloween is a western holiday that can be considered relatively new in Poland. Which doesn’t mean that (as some claim) it is not tied to any history, and its source is merely a desire to push sales forward. Halloween is a tradition related to many customs and with a pretty complex origins. What is the source of the rituals that we follow by cutting out jack-o-lanterns and put on scary costumes every year?
Up until recently, the turn of October and November was only associated in Poland with the All Saints' Day. In the middle of fall all the shops are full of grave candles, and we become more pensive in a way that is characteristic to that time. This period is approach completely differently by people who celebrate Halloween, for whom it’s a time for fun and dress up. For few years now, our shops are shared by candle lights and flowers with scary masks and decorations featuring spiders, ghosts and pumpkins. Plenty of traditionalists oppose this, saying that Halloween is yet another (right after equally hated Valentine’s day) American way to fuel the economy and make us buy more useless products.
It turns out, however, that although the custom of celebrating Halloween really did arrive to us from the States, it is actually not an American tradition. Its origins trace back to the civilization of Celts, who once used to live around present day England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and northern France. The Celtic faith included a belief that on October 31st the souls of the dead visit the Earth. For that reason, different ceremonies were held in order to scare away the evil ghosts. Bonfires were built, scary masks were worn and a lot of noise was made to scare away the unwanted guests. The custom of putting on scary, dark costumes was meant to trick the ghosts – seeing people dressed like that, they were supposed to think they met their own „kind” and leave them alone without harming them.
The name Halloween is short for „All Hallows' Eve”, or „All Saints' Day eve” – when we put it this way, it all suddenly becomes a little more „native” and understandable, doesn’t it? In order to properly understand this western holiday, one has to remember that today dressing up and scary decorations haven’t been related to any beliefs for a long time – it’s just fun, meant to get use to the things we’re scared of. Both for Americans and the rest of the world that copies them, Halloween is just another opportunity to celebrate, meet with friends and spend time in a little different way than usual. A popular Australian custom (which was also adapted by other nations) is dressed up kids walking door to door saying „Trick or treat”. Adults are usually prepared for that and get equipped with candy beforehand to give to the masqueraders later. If they don’t, kids will play some innocent trick on them. Another variant of it is cultivated by Italians – their kids find candy in the morning, left there by resurrected dead according to a tradition
Traditional making of jack-o-lantern, on the other hand, was invented by the Irish. Plenty of people are certainly surprised by the fact that initially it was not pumpkins used for that – at the time it was turnips, rutabagas or beets instead. Pumpkin wasn’t known in Europe until discovery of Americas. Using bigger and more convenient pumpkins for that purpose, on the other hand, was the idea of the British.
Another game related to Halloween, which is completely unknown in Poland however, is biting pieces of apples swimming in bowls of water without using hands. Girls collect their apples and hand them over their bed – a tradition says that it will cause them to have dreams about their future husband.