Traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, Halloween is the day before All Saints’ Day as its name entails the vigil or “All Hallows Eve” (Hallowe’en) of all saints. As many other Catholic traditions such as Christmas and New Year’s, the festivity of All Saint’s’ starts the evening before, so even though most people only think of candy, costumes, pumpkins and witches on Halloween, and even though it is widely thought to be a pagan tradition, this celebration actually has its origins in the Roman Catholic Church since “the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints,” and “many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast’s vigils.”
In the Celtic tradition, “Samhain” was celebrated on the night before November 1st, and this was the pagan festivity that marked the end of the summer and harvest season and the beginning of the cold and dark-day season. Celtic tribes believed that the Lord of the dead made the souls of deceased come to life, which allowed the druids (priests, soothsayers, judges, poets, etc. in ancient Britain, Ireland, and France) to communicate with ancestors and invoke the dead. They started bonfires and cast spells to scare away the deaths, and people used to leave food at their doorways so that spirits would leave happy and leave them alone unharmed. After the roman invasion, the two cultures began to mix and the sketches of the primitive Halloween celebration began to appear, and it transformed through the years until it became the traditional Halloween celebration that people commemorate these days and that has little or nothing to do with what it primarily intended.
Some controversy still revolves around the origins of Halloween and on whether it is genuinely Catholic or Pagan. Although its origins are Pagan, the holiday seems to have more elements of the Catholic Church. For example, the start of the current “trick-or-treat” custom can be found between the ancient and modern European history, in which “poor people in the community begged for ‘soul cakes,’ and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls.” In the States Halloween is actually not an evening to cry or remember saints or the departed, but rather a night n which kids wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy. In addition, the trick-or-treating tradition remains as such mainly by custom since “the naughty and destructive tricks once associated with Hallowe’en seem mostly to have disappeared.”
In the same manner, people dress in evil costumes and wear frightening masks to mock evil, confuse and scare evil spirits while looking like them “because as Christians, it has no real power over us.” The tradition of the jack-o-lantern also developed originally in Europe as a way of decorating streets during the eve of All Hallows Day, and therein the Witch Night evolved. However, some people believe that the tradition of the pumpkins is uniquely American, but the truth is that it has its origins in an old Irish custom according to which a dead man had to walk every night with hollowed-out turnip lantern as punishment for all his sins, which relates to the “authentic Catholic teaching about Purgatory and the need for every soul’s purification from the effects of sin before entering Heaven.”
Being the traditional Halloween colors, orange and black represent the color of “ripe pumpkins, falling leaves and glowing sunsets and candlelight;” and the “traditional color of mourning in the West” respectively. The latter is believed to represent sins and evil, as it is the liturgical color of All Souls’ Day (the day after All Saints) while the previous one is believed to represent the fall season and the blazing of bonfires and candles.
Nowadays, the “Halloween” tradition is considered a secular festivity, and it is the result of the different customs that European immigrants took with them to the U.S., many of which are just part of the past in Europe since they only make sense in the integration that the American culture has given to this festivity. Although the tradition remains strong in the U.S. and has been widely Americanized while it has disappeared in most parts of the world, some European countries are resorting back to this holiday. In Spain, October represents the month of candy and every year more schools throw costume parties for the children. Spaniards have and are everlastingly adopting their own version of the tradition, which I have found surprising even though the celebration hasn’t extended as much as it has in the States.
Today was the second Halloween that I spend in Spain and both last and this year my family and I got kids on our door asking for “Truco o Golosina” or “Truco o Trato.” It was kind of cute as I had never listened to kids trick-or-treating in Spanish, so I was all excited watching the kids wearing their Halloween costumes and collecting candy around the neighborhood. Even if the tradition remains primarily American and it isn’t officially observed in Spain, people from this and other cultures are embracing it as well, and I think it is a matter of time before the tradition becomes more popular and we start seeing imposing Halloween decorations and customs around the entire European land.