Posted in Kafevend Blog
Here at the Kafevend blog we love a good diversion, and this is quite an interesting one. Today, as some of you have no doubt been looking foward to (or not, depending on which side of the door you are on), is Halloween. We like delving into history, so let's see what we can turn up about this spooky spectacle.
Halloween has its origins in a myriad of pagan traditions and beliefs held by the various groups living in Europe thousands of years ago. In the UK in particular, it stems from the old Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in), one of four seasonal festivals. As winter closed in, part of the festival involved placating the Aos Sí (pronounced ees shee)- otherwise known as the fairy folk. This time of year was believed to coincide with a weakening between the real and the spirit worlds, when spirits and fairies could more easily enter our world and potentially cause mischief. Not what you want when you're trying to make it through the winter. They were placated with offerings of food and drink, though protective charms were put up as well just to be on the safe side. It was also believed that the souls of the dead returned at this time, and so families would make up places at the table for deceased relatives out of respect.
This type of thinking was played down by Christianity when it arrived later on, but simply stamping out the beliefs of the locals is a great way to cause havoc. Instead, like many other pagan festivals, Samhain was adapted and given a Christian veneer and became All-Hallows Eve. In the Christian calender, the 31st October marked the beginning of a three day period known as Allhallowtide which is dedicated to remembering the dead, much like parts of Samhain before it. It took on a more religious tone as some of those remembered were saints, also known as hallows, giving the festival its name.
It's possible that trick or treating arose from the Christian practice of baking soul cakes during Allhallowtide. These were small cakes containing a variety of spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg as well as fruits like raisins and currants. They were given to children and the poor who went out "souling", a sort of ritualised begging. In exchange for the cakes, they would pray for the souls of the dead. There were also various songs they would sing as they went around from house to house. The dressing up element of Halloween may have arisen from the pratice of disguising oneself from vengeful souls during the festival, which in turn may have roots in avoiding the ire of the Aos Sí during Samhain.
We're often berated for forgetting the true meanings of the various festivals we observe. Thankfully you can do your bit for reviving the old ways quite easily if you're a frequent visitor to coffee shops. When you go and get your pumpkin spice latte today, spare a thought for Saint Drogo, who is, in fact, the patron saint of coffee houses!