Many religious festivals change dates each year according to the phases of the moon, but Hallowe’en (or ‘All Hallows Eve’) is always celebrated on 31st October, the day before All Saints Day, a Catholic celebration to honour the saints. However, this wasn’t always the case, and it was once celebrated on 12th May, before it was moved by Pope Gregory III in the 9th century.
Nobody is sure why the date was changed, although some experts think it may have been to coincide with the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was thought to honour the spirits of the dead at the end of the year, and is also known as Summer’s End.
We even have a little-known name for Halloween in Cornwall, called Allan Day. To this day, local Cornish children are given a present of an Allan apple on Hallowe’en, as a symbol of protection. Apples have always been considered magical by the Celts, who believed that eating them kept the gods young and beautiful. Did you know that, if an apple is cut crossways, you can see a perfect five-point star?
The Romans also has a similar festival at the end of October, called ‘Pomona Day’, which merged with Samhain after the Romans came to Britain around AD 43. This festival was dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.
Using fire-lit lanterns at Hallowe’en stems from a Celtic tradition to both keep away bad spirits and keep bad spirits warm, well as honouring the sun to give it strength to survive through the harsh winter. The use of pumpkins for these lanterns, instead of flaming torches, is thought to originate from Ireland, where they actually used turnips. It was the Americans who brought pumpkins to the UK.
In the village of Hinton St. George in Somerset, there is a tradition called ‘Punkie Night’, where children make a lantern out of a pumpkin or other similar mangel-wurzel vegetables. Faces are carved into them and children sing the ‘Punkie song’ whilst collecting money for charity, and threaten to trick people if they don’t donate. The boy and girl who collect the most money are elected Punkie King and Queen.
Punkie night is celebrated on the last Thursday in October, so doesn’t always follow on Halloween.
||Today, we’ve retained a lot of the ancient traditions, but celebrate in a fun-filled spooky setting, as opposed to keeping bad spirits away.Our Halloween theme page gives lots of ideas of how to celebrate Hallowe’en, along with links to retailers for your supplies and gifts.