Halloween is one of the world's oldest customs, addressing an essential part of the human condition: the link between the living and the dead. While Halloween has long been a staple of Western culture, recent years have seen a surge in the holiday's popularity in New Zealand.
If you're gearing up for Halloween by stocking up on candy and costumes, or if you're just going with the flow this year, here are some interesting facts about the spookiest night of the year.
How did Halloween Started?
Samhain, or Halloween, was a festival that was celebrated in Celtic countries many years ago. It was created to celebrate the transition between seasons and allow the dead to visit the living world once again. The ancient Celts thought that the border between the living and the dead was thinnest during Samhain, therefore a bonfire, sweets, and costumes were used to fend off evil spirits.
Meanwhile, early Christians sought to create their holiday to prohibit converts from celebrating pagan holidays. Therefore, Pope Gregory III proclaimed November 1 All Saints' Day to honour Christian martyrs and saints and November 2 All Souls Day to honour the deceased. Later, the holiday commemorating all saints was renamed All Hallows' Day, and the night before, October 31, was dubbed All Hallows' Eve before eventually being shortened to Halloween.
The entire history isn't meant to mix up Halloween and its Mexican cousin, Dia de Muertos, also called Dia de Los Muertos, a different holiday from October 31 to November 2. Halloween emphases the gloomy and terrible aspects of death, whereas Dia de Muertos celebrates the afterlife.
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Costumes were used for hiding from ghosts
Probably not as varied and creative as Halloween costumes are nowadays, traditionally costumes were used as a way to hide from the spirits who returned during Halloween. When leaving their homes after dark, people would often wear masks so that the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits and would leave them be.
Trick-or-treating used to be ‘souling’
It’s thought to be quite likely that today’s trick-or-treating practice derives from what was called ‘souling.’ This was a way for the poorer people of society to ask for food in exchange for saying prayers for the home’s loved ones who had passed on. It is also believed that these people would perform at the door for food, possibly the origins of busking too!
Jack-O-Lanterns were originally turnips
Although we don’t see them too much in New Zealand, Jack-O-Lanterns are named after a man known as ‘Stingy Jack’ who would constantly play tricks on the devil, who responded by forcing him to be stuck in purgatory with only a burning lump of coal from hell. Jack took the coal and made a lantern from a turnip to guide his lost soul. As turnips were hard to come by in the US, pumpkins were used as a substitute.
Although it’s all in the sound, and spooky fun, Halloween is a fantastic time for spiritual renewal and transformation. It’s a time when our loved ones passed on can be remembered, and we can honour the cycles of death and rebirth.
How do we celebrate Halloween in New Zealand?
Unlike in Western countries, Halloween isn't as popular in New Zealand and isn't always observed. However, Halloween is increasing in popularity, and more kids with costumes are "trick or treating" every year. So prepare for a knock and have some sweets ready!
Halloween in New Zealand fosters communal spirit. Building a tight-knit community or village requires getting to know your neighbours. Halloween is a fun way to explore your town and meet new neighbours.
One growing Halloween custom in New Zealand is to hang a "sign" outside one's door indicating that the owner welcomes trick-or-treaters. There are particular signs for this, or you could just use a spider on your mailbox or some cobwebs on your fence. If your home is decorated for Halloween, children will know it's safe to knock on your door and that you will have candy for them. Without a sign, it lets the kids know to walk on to the next house. Think about starting this practice if it hasn't already if you want to keep your neighbours happy.
Turning front yards into spooky scenarios is also getting more popular. Everything is from hands emerging from the grass to enormous spiders hanging from trees to full-on graveyard dance scenes! Kids enjoy it, creating a fun community for a single spookiest night of the year.
If you are interested in celebrating Halloween and adding some spooky items to your home, check out our wide range of Halloween products!
Have a Happy Halloween everyone!