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Celebrate an Old World Halloween

Celebrate an Old World Halloween

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Updated on Sep 28, 2009

Think you know your favorite hair-raising holiday? Think again. Halloween is a complex holiday with a multi-layered past steeped in religion, mythology and superstition alike. This October 31st, resurrect the ghosts of Halloween past for some historical high spirits!

Heartthrob Halloween: Monsters, Mayhem and . . . Marriage?

Despite its rather grim associations today, October 31st once had a more auspicious outlook. For the lovesick and lonely hearted who found it difficult to wait for February 14th every year, the Halloween of yesteryear afforded plenty of opportunities for courtship and romantic prediction. Divination games played in the 19th century at Halloween included the interpretation of cards, the reading of egg whites and apple peels for the name of a future spouse, the casting of love spells and the burning of nuts to determine one’s marriage. Some traditions in the British Isles had would-be Juliets throwing skeins of wool out their windows at night in the hopes that a future lover would pick them up, or cooling molten lead in water to determine a potential husband’s livelihood. Halloween’s roots in mystery made it prime time for this kind of superstition. Given its earliest associations as a fertility festival, it is not surprising that Edinburgh’s “Hallow fair” was known as a time when “Love’s Stalks are Scattered,” as historian Nicholas Rogers notes in his book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night.

To celebrate: Have a pippin pairing party! A pippin is another word for apple. While many contemporary Halloween parties include bobbing for apples, try this Old World take on the game for some matchmaking mischief. Once everyone has had the chance to bob for an apple, peel your apple in a single continuous strip (this may require adult hands if smaller children are playing, as apple peeling can be tricky). Drop the apple pairing over your left shoulder, jump, and take a peek—whatever shape the apple pairing falls in will resemble the first letter of your love’s name!

Hallowed Halloween: Spooks, Souls and . . . Saints?

Few people know that the holiday’s name comes from All Hallows’ Eve (later truncated to Hallows’ Evening and Hallowe’en), a reference to the Catholic festival of saints on November 1st. The Feast of All Saints is celebrated the day after Halloween as Catholics around the world commune with these holy intercessors. The day following All Saints’ Day is All Souls’ Day on the Catholic liturgical calendar, as well as in some Protestant traditions. This feast day commemorates “the faithful departed,” and worshippers offer prayers in behalf of the deceased.

Especially popular in Latin America and Mexico, the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is observed with color and pageantry. Though rituals vary from place to place, many celebrants don vibrant costumes and masks, participate in dance and song traditions, and end the day at the cemetery to honor their kindred dead by bringing gifts and offerings. Probably the most recognizable imagery of this festival comes from José Guadalupe Posada’s 1913 print “La Calavera Catrina,” which depicts a richly dressed female skeleton.

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