As it’s Halloween today (cue spooky music, creaking doors, and Vincent Price’s cackle, which never fails to send shivers down my spine), I thought I’d delve into a bit of its history.

The word, Halloween, comes from a mash-up of All-Hallows-Even (evening) (first use recorded way back in 1556) and the name of Celtic festival, Samhain (pronounced sow-een, whatever the actors on “True Blood” call it).

Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the lighter half of the year, and the beginning of some seriously long dark nights. It was also known as a festival dedicated to the dead, and some people still set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast.

The Gaelic custom of wearing a mask and costumes was often an attempt to placate evil spirits. Another method of warding off evil were the candle lanterns. Large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces, and placed in the window to frighten away the spirits.

In Scotland and Ireland, guising (dressing in costume) is a Halloween custom recorded as far back as  1895 where masqueraders in disguise visited homes to be rewarded with cake, fruit, and money (sounds good to me!).

So, now you’re all nice and knowledgeable about where our Halloween name and customs came from, I hope you have a wonderful spookfest this evening. I think I’ll be looking out my (admittedly tiny) collection of scary films. If you hear blood-curdling screams, that’ll be me, hiding behind a cushion. Did I mention I’m useless with horror films?

Image: zirconicusso /