Halloween in Europe
It’s that time of year again, the pumpkins are carved, sweeties are in abundance and the costumes are gruesome, Halloween is here! But have you ever wondered about the origin of this spooky day? Or how it’s celebrated in other European countries? Let us take you on a journey of terrifying discovery…
How did Halloween begin?
Firstly, let’s take a quick look at what Halloween is and why we celebrate as we do. It’s originally a Celtic festival which evolved from the end of harvest festival of Samhain (‘Summers End’). The Celts had two seasons – summer and winter, and Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the start of the winter months.
The Celts believed as the nights got shorter it was necessary to reinvigorate the sun and so they would light sacred bonfires. Members of the local community would use these to light fires in their own homes.
All kinds of spirits
It was believed that these fires frightened away evil spirits. And this is very important because it was thought that this transition between seasons, was when a bridge to the world of the dead opened – with spirits, both good and evil, able to roam the earth.
It was said the souls of the dead returned to their families, thus it was tradition to put out food and drink for ghostly visitors to show they were welcomed and ward off any misfortune. And it’s from this we get today’s tradition of ‘Trick or Treat’.
Another traditional Halloween game which originates from Samhain is bobbing for apples. As the bridge between the two worlds opened, it was considered a particularly good time to predict the future. Apples (believed to be fruit of a sacred tree) were used to predict marriage, sickness and death. Marked apples were placed into a tub of water, and by picking up one of the apples with her mouth, a young woman could predict her future spouse!
Finally, Samhain was a time of drunkenness and casting aside inhibitions. Traditional values were reversed – what was usually forbidden was allowed!
Halloween in Europe
Many Catholic Austrians remember the dead for a whole week between 30th October and 8th November, a period known as Seleenwoche (All Souls Week). During this time, a lamp is lit, plus bread and water is left on the side to welcome the spirits. In Austria, Halloween is much more a religious period for remembering the lives of loved ones.
It was only during the 1990s that France really started to embrace Halloween. It’s usually celebrated by dressing up and visiting friends – the French tend to opt for the ‘scary’ costume, preferring to dress as mummies, ghosts, witches and vampires!
If you’re in the mood for some pumpkin carving, then try Les Fermes de Gally, which offers a ‘pick your own’ pumpkin farm at two locations close to Paris. They provide a selection of carving tools, plus instructions manuals if you are feeling less creative.
And if you are visiting one of the campsites near Paris, a trip to Disneyland Paris is a must. The popular theme park embraces Halloween with a special festival and party.
In Germany, it is traditional to put all knives away on the night of 31st October, to prevent the living from hunting the spirits, and vice-versa. Halloween parties are quite common, but children don’t tend to go trick or treating. The real celebration at this time of year in Germany is Martinstag, which is celebrated on 11th November. Traditionally, it was a feast marking the end of the harvest, but nowadays it marks the start of Christmas and the traditional Christmas markets.
The Catholic church purged most Halloween and pagan celebrations during the 17th century, so it wasn’t really until the 1990s when the festival gained popularity – probably due to an influx of TV programmes and horror films from the USA. Carved pumpkins and Halloween costumes are more common these days – although in Italy the 1st and 2nd November (All Saints Day and All Souls Day), are more important. On these days, Italians traditionally spend time with their families and remember their loved ones.
Spanish Halloween celebrations are more closely linked to the original Celtic festival. In Spain, Halloween is celebrated over three days, starting with ‘Dia De Las Brujas’ (Witches Day) on 31st October, followed by ‘Dia De Los Santos’ (All Saints Day) on 1st November, and ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ (All Souls Day) on 2nd November. In Barcelona, ‘La Castanyada’ is a popular festival held on 1st November.
You’ll find various events including concerts, plus a host of stalls selling seasonal delicacies, including castanyes (chestnuts), sweet potatoes, sweet wine and panellets – small Catalan cakes made of marzipan and almonds. The most popular Halloween custom in Spain is a drink called quemada, which is a mixture of aguardiente (strong aniseed liquor), unground coffee, orange peel or lemon rind, and sugar.
Do you have any ghostly tales of Halloween in Europe?