Ghosts and Ghouls, Saints and Souls

RIMG0101.JPGI wonder if you have packed away the pumpkin yet and cleared all those cob-webs from your ceiling that decorated that all-time great Halloween Party… Or did you try hard to ignore this autumn festival, thinking it is an Americanism that shouldn’t be encouraged? I have to own up right here and now that we did (and always do) carve pumpkins, and that I love turning its slow-roasted flesh into soft, velvety pumpkin soup.  This weekend Halloween coincided with the turning back of the clocks in the UK which was great news for those partying on Saturday night – providing us all with an extra hour of sleep .  It also meant it was suitably dark outside on Sunday while I was going about my business, hollowing out that monster pumpkin.  I can’t take credit for the carving this year though, which was safely in the hands of the kids, and I think they did a great job. 🙂

Not so new after all

Pumpkins.jpgFor those of you who fear we are all giving in to yet another commercial feast, it may be comforting to know that for centuries Halloween-style celebrations have taken place not just in Scotland – where it’s called ‘guising’ – but in England too, where beggars used to knock on doors on Halloween, and ask for food in return for prayers for all souls. Shakespeare himself mentions the tradition in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona when Speed accuses Valentine of whining …like a beggar at Hallowmas… Well, I’m not going to argue with the great man, and will accept Halloween for what it is – a European tradition.

In fact, all over continental Europe similar festivals take place, although the trick-or-treating and carrying of lanterns is usually done on the 11th of November, St. Martin’s Day when children roam the streets and knock on their neighbours’ doors singing St. Martin songs and asking for sweets in return. In Ireland Halloween is firmly based on the Celtic festival of Samhain, which used to be celebrated around the 31st October/1st November.  The Celts believed that on the night of Samhain the veil between the world of the living and the dead was thin enough for all spirits – bad as well as good – to get through.  To make sure that the bad spirits were warned off, people would dress up in costume and wear scary masks.  So you see, Halloween is not so new after all, and in some ways we are all going back to our roots.

All Saints and Souls

Autumn Colours.jpgToday – the 1st of November – is a national holiday for many countries, as it is All Saints’ Day or Hallowmas,  the day for remembering all saints and martyrs.  It is celebrated throughout the Western Christian world and the tradition goes back to the 4th century AD although apparently the martyrs were not worthy of remembering until later in the 7th century. All Saints’ Day is followed by All Souls’ Day on the 2nd of November, when those who have departed but not yet reached their place in heaven are remembered.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are hugely popular traditions all over Europe, when people all saints day slovakia.jpgvisit the graves of their loved ones, and I know that many of my friends across Europe will be doing so today and tomorrow.  In the more western parts of Europe people place flowers on graves.  In Central and Eastern Europe graves are cleaned thoroughly, gravel paths are raked carefully so as not to leave footprints for bad spirits to follow, and thousands of candles will be lit all over the cemeteries, which take on a beautiful, atmospheric look as darkness sets in.

Food for Spirits

Pumpkin Soup.jpgIn olden days, the good people of Estonia used to leave out food for their loved ones departed. The disappearance of the food by morning would comfort them, knowing that their loved one’s spirit was still there. It is an age-old tradition that in some places is followed even today. In Spain similar offerings are made, while in some parts of Portugal – surprise, surprise – children go around celebrating Pão-por-Deus.  They go around in small groups, knocking on doors asking (and getting) sweets, cakes and other goodies. Now where have I heard that one before? Whatever you choose to think about Halloween, I hope you will enjoy these three days of culture and tradition. We’re having pumpkin soup tonight – again 🙂

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5 Comments

  1. Aleida Brinkman ( Mum )
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Good story , enjoyed reading it and learned something again!
    Lovely !

  2. Boris
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    What a treat – customs and rituals from around Europe. Marvellous.

  3. Penny
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    How absolutely fascinating! We learn something new every day,and i thoroughly enjoyed the story too!

  4. Pascale
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Une très jolie page avec de belles photos qui donne envie d’essayer tout de suite les recettes!

  5. Pascale
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Une très jolie page qui donne envie d’essayer les recettes immédiatement

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