Pyramids were built in Egypt but similar structures can be found in Mexico. Up till today we still don't really understand how two cultures so far away from each other came to built temples of that magnitude and in similar fashion. It is not like they took a plane to study each others habit. Even a boat trip to the other side of the world seems highly unlikely for that time. And so we look upon it, scratch our head and wonder. How amazing is it that some things spread over the world and by doing so, change the history of its origin. Halloween is just like that.
We all look upon Halloween as a good old American tradition that slowly but surely made its entrance in Europe and the rest of the world over the past decades. Nothing could be further from the truth though. Americans have only been trick-or-treating since the 1940's where as the practise of dressing up in costume and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and even included Christmas wassailing. Christmas what? Waissailing, yes. Which means so much as carolling. (and yes there goes another American tradition to pieces). Waissailing goes back even further than tick-or-treating. It likely predates the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. But that is a story for another time.
Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, in which poor people would go door to door on Hallowmas, November 1. November 2 is All Souls Day, the day on which all those who had passed were remembered. Poor folk would knock on doors the night before to sing and pray for the death in return for food. It didn't take long before it became an annual tradition for the more wealthy to feed the poor folk and instead of left overs special treats were invented for the event, such as soul cakes; cakes usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and topped with the mark of a cross. Since then things have changed. The tradition found its way to the New World when the first emigrants from England and Ireland crossed the ocean, and slowly transformed itself into the American tradition we currently celebrate. All Souls Day was elevated to All Saints Day and moved from NOvember 2 to 1, and Hallowmass became Halloween. It is no longer a practise for the less fortunate to beg for food door to door in return for prayers for the death. Today children excitedly roam neighbourhoods determined to fill their pockets with candy. And even the tradition to dress up in ghostly appearances has made place for super heroes and Disney princesses. And funny enough, the celebration of Halloween has once again crossed the deep blue, this time in the other direction. Halloween is an increasingly popular holiday, that now also knows the adult Halloween parties. God knows what kind of trick-and treating happens there, but for sure it's no candy. And so the circle is complete, but the history has changed. –BM-
Cover photography by Michael Craft.
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