Halloween in Europe

By Lisa Harvey

This blog was originally featured on ubumm.  To view the original post, click here.

Unless you’re studying in Ireland this semester, you may not find the same amount of ghouls and goblins walking the cobblestone streets. Halloween is a tricky holiday for Europe – its history, riddled with changes and restructures, has created the “monster” of a holiday that now exists back home in the states. The night of witches and warlocks began as a Celtic holiday called Samhain, a day when the end of summer was celebrated and the souls that had died in the past year were released into the afterlife. People would disguise themselves as demons to make sure these souls didn’t make a detour into their bodies on this magical night. Thus, costumes began.

Through history, as religions evolved, the Celts were dominated by the Romans, who created a pagan approach to the holiday and brought in the tradition of offering sacrifices of food and drink to the souls that had passed. Finally, the Catholic Church gained power and began to remold the pagan holidays into what would be recognized as the Christian religion. All Saints Day was established in lieu of Samhain, prayer replaced the pagan sacrifices of October/November (though soul cakes – to help the souls make it to heaven- were still popular) and bonfires, instead of being lit to celebrate the sun, were lit to keep the devil away.

Interestingly, Halloween in America didn’t gain any ground until the mass immigrations from Ireland in the late 1800s. Before that, the Puritan pilgrims had refused to have the Halloween tradition anywhere close to their communities. But the Irish brought it with strength, and many in the Victorian Era took the holiday to heart and began creating the publicized contests and scare shows Halloween is made of today.

Here in Europe, the holiday still runs rampant in Ireland and is gaining a recognizable nod in countries like Italy now that media pushes American traditions. Though the United States is still the leader in ghost stories and the infatuation with everything undead, in Europe it is still more of a religious holiday, especially in the Catholic countries. All Saints’ Day is the “reason for the season” but you’ll probably still get a few nods of approval if you put your best vampire teeth on and walk to the bars. Everyone likes a good scare.

Happy Halloween!

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