Halloween spirits… past, present and paraded

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 10/27/2016
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Travel, Tauck, Fall Foliage, Ireland, Holiday, history, tradition

Happy Halloween

It’s one of the oldest holidays in the world, one day put aside each year to honor deceased loved ones and their ancestors. Traditions vary from place to place depending on individual cultures and customs, but many include costumes, trick-or-treating, pranks and games. But no matter how different the Halloween celebration, there is one thing you can be certain of as you spend the hallowed eve out and about, there’s no other night like it during any other time of the year.

An Irish tradition 2,000+ years old

The ancient Celts of Ireland are credited with introducing the very first Halloween more than 2,000 years ago with a pagan festival called Samhain that marked the end of summer, the harvest and the beginning of their new year which was designated as November 1. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, October 31, the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth and walked among the living. History notes that the Celts commemorated this event by building huge sacrificial bonfires, wearing costumes of animal heads and skins and telling each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they returned home to relight their hearth fires and stay warm and safe during the winter! 

Blarney CastleTake an Ireland Tour on Halloween today and you’ll find many of these same traditions playing out throughout the Emerald Isle. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes to go trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, they traditionally attend parties with neighbors and friends where they often serve a fruitcake called barmbrack (recipe). Similar to the King cakes served after Christmas, a muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake that can foretell the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way.

Hallowed feasts for the soul in Europe

The word Halloween derives from an old English phrase, “All Hallows Eve.” November 1 was designated as All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), in the second century to honor saints who didn’t have a special day set aside for them. A Christian feast day, it was meant to replace the pagan feast of Samhain and to draw the devotion of the people to the church.

That didn’t happen entirely as they had hoped. Europeans continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead and to appease those spirits and their costumed counterparts by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, “All Hallows Eve” became “Hallow Evening,” which ultimately became the cultural brew that today is Halloween.

graveBut it’s not all candy and craziness in Europe. In Hungary, Halloween is known as "Halottak Napja" or "All Souls Day" and is combined with All Saints Day for a 2-day celebration on November 1 and 2 that is more sentimental than sensational. Instead of dressing up as ghosts, ghouls and goblins, the Hungarians first honor the dead saints in church services and then go and visit the hallowed cemeteries and gravesites where their deceased family members and friends have been laid to rest. And unlike those costumed children who go door to door in search of candies and treats, Hungarians go to cemeteries with yellow chrysanthemums and red votive candles to decorate the graves of their loved ones. Some people even leave food and drinks for the departed.

Halloween knocks on America’s doors

The custom of Halloween was first brought to America by Irish potato famine emigrants in the 1840s, with a nod to England’s early “All Souls Day” parades where the poor who would beg along the route would be given “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives (recipe). According to local legends, the church encouraged this as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits!

Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s trick-or-treat tradition.

Maine FallHalloween has evolved since then and today towns across the US have their own traditions. Some of the best are tied into the literary legend that makes Sleepy Hollow, New York, a favorite October destination for Hudson Valley hauntings, hay rides and headless horsemen; the Festival of the Dead in witchy Salem, Massachusetts, is is popular with mortals; and the haunted tours of New Orleans, reputed to be the most haunted city in America, are hair-raising and always spirited.

If you head to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, near our nation’s capital Washington, DC, where American history dates back to the days of George Washington and they say haunted houses are found on every street, you’ll find that the locals have put the howl in Halloween as costumed dogs of all size and breed are welcomed into hotels, shops and eateries for special canine treats. They parade all over town on this festive day so people can pause at the dressed up paws that pass their way!

And speaking of parades, the US has some of the most fiendish and fantastical parades on this hallowed eve, from New York City's Village Halloween Parade, a cultural phenomenon that shuts down lower Manhattan with an excess of urban revelry, to Santa Monica, California’s Hollywood Halloween street party, the largest of its kind anywhere, and Tauck’s own company parade that travels through their Connecticut headquarters with some of the most spirited employees in the travel industry!

Click here to see each recipe. Enjoy!Halloween Tauck Group

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