Monday, 13 October 2014

The Origins of Halloween



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Ray Bradbury described the atmospheric month of October perfectly with the prologue to his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote: “And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling, and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.”

The most anticipated part of the month comes at the very end, leaving children and adults alike on their toes for weeks. They wait, partaking in a long tradition of reveling in spooky tales, wild superstitions, and ghastly creatures until finally dressing up and trick-or-treating on Halloween night.

But how did such a peculiar holiday come to be?

Well, like all holidays, it started as a holy day.

Halloween’s roots date back to pre-Christian times. The Gaelic peoples in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man celebrated the pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). This holiday marked the end of summer and the onset of winter. It was also a day that rejoiced in the plentiful harvest that would sustain their peoples during winter. But above all those things, it was a mystical time of year, a time when spirits and faeries could easily move between worlds, entering our own. Dark spirits wanted to possess and torment the living. To frighten them off, the Celts dressed up as monsters and illuminated the night with fire. But not all spirits were sinister. The Celts also set their tables with an extra plate to welcome the souls of lost loved ones. As much as the pagans feared the holiday, they embraced it with the bonfires, guising, and sacrificial offerings their spirituality demanded.

Then the Romans came along.

During their four-century reign over the Celts, two Roman festivals seemingly replaced - or at least complemented - Samhain. One commemorated the passing of the dead, Feralia, and the other celebrated the Roman goddess of fruit and nuts, Pomona. Not only was the supernatural element kept, but as was the one of harvest. In fact, Pomona’s symbol was the apple, and many believe that it was what inspired “bobbing for apples.” But again, times change.

In the medieval era, the Roman Catholic Church was looking for ways to spread the good word and convert pagans. In order to do so, Pope Gregory IV made All Hallow’s Eve the same day as Samhain. At least, according to popular belief. And, of course, new traditions became custom while some old ones remained.

Across Europe, church bells rang for souls in purgatory. Criers clad in black would ring a bell in the streets, asking for Christians to pray for those stuck in spiritual limbo. An event known as souling (the baking and sharing of soul cakes for christened souls) began around this time, which many believe to be the origin of trick-or-treating. The impoverished - mainly children - would go door-to-door, acquiring soul cakes as a means to pray for those in purgatory. Also associated with purgatory, it seems, are the jack-o-lanterns, their inner light said to be a spirit trapped between Heaven and Hell, wandering the earth, protecting guisers from diabolical ghosts who arose from their graves one night a year to cling to their earthly ways.

Evolving still, the holiday made its way overseas, reaching North America through immigration. As cultures mixed in the new world, the customs transformed yet again to the modernized ones we practice now. For example, “trick-or-treat” had been coined in the 1900s; the earliest printed reference of the phrase appearing in Alberta in 1927. The “trick” aspect was added along with the “treat” when the day served as a means for mischief and vandalism. Interestingly, trick-or-treating was even banned during World War II due to sugar rations, however its popularity resurged during the baby boom shortly thereafter.

As we can see, Halloween has come a long way from souls and sacrifices being quite literally embraced. However, remnants of the old ways still linger, playfully interwoven with the threads of our modern tapestry. Undoubtedly, All Hallow’s Eve will change yet again, but it seems for certain that ghosts of the past will stay to haunt us with a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

October in the City of Champions


Nothing brings to life a city like a month celebrating the dead. The atmosphere is perfect for goblins, ghouls, and ghosts, be they malevolent or mischievous. And whether you believe in them or not, the eerie and playful spirit of Halloween keeps them in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Pair that with grey skies, crisp winds, and a plethora of leaves the colour of a dwindling bonfire, and Edmonton’s ready for one last hurrah before winter settles in. Take part in the autumnal festivities … before it’s too late!    
Edmonton Corn Maze
When: September 2nd – October 20th
Location: West of Edmonton in Parkland County
Come down for a traditional event that’s fun for the whole family! Fifteen acres of field have become a maze, full of towering corn plants, 85 decision points, and Santa Claus. That’s right! This year the Edmonton Corn Maze has partnered up with Santas Anonymous, a charity that has been around for 60 years making sure that every child has the option to wake up to a present Christmas morning. Wander and weave through the merry design, have a family picnic, launch your kids into orbit on giant jumping pillows, and climb (not Christian) Bale Mountain. Then, when the days get closer to Halloween, the Farm of Fear will open its gates! Visit www.edmontoncornmaze.ca for more information!    

 
Deadmonton Haunted House
When: Every weekend starting October 3rd
Location: 10505 106 St NW
The Williams family farmland was notorious for their pumpkin patch. Then the flood came, obliterating their livelihood. When winter hit, things became worse. They secluded themselves, outcasts with their bad luck and newfound state of poverty. No one noticed when they disappeared. At least not right away. People eventually became curious, creeping up to the farm, but then never returning themselves. Some have allegedly seen flashing lights, mist, and creatures from afar. Maybe it wasn’t their imagination running away with them. Perhaps they were wise not to venture closer like the others had. Do you dare visit the Williams farmstead and see for yourself? See www.deadmontonhouse.com for details …
Edmonton’s Woman Show
When: October 18th – 19th
Location: Northlands, Edmonton EXPO Centre, Hall A
Take a breather from the chilling activities with this event! Occurring bi-annually since 1996, the Woman’s Show is renowned for bring women together and fostering a supportive community. Come down and see presenters, booths, and seminars from best-selling author Fawn Weaver, acupuncturist Sabrina Silins (R.Ac., TCMD), Londonderry Mall, Edmonton Henna Tattoos, and many more! Take part in Latin dancing lessons, get your handwriting analysed, and enjoy a delectable Afternoon Tea Time. Consider this a perfect couple of days to get your coven on, ladies! Check out http://www.womanshow.com/whats-on for more!
Edmonton Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival
When: October 24th – 25th
Location: Shaw Conference Centre, Halls A – C
Returning for its 13th year is this tantalizing festival! There won’t be caramel apples or a bounty of individually wrapped candies found here. In their place will be a remarkable selection of premium wines, beers, and fine local cuisine. And, of course, there will be spirits, however distilled. Walk the Grand Tasting Hall to take a trip around the world when it comes to the massive international selection. Return for a taste of home with a Cheese Tasting Seminar hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Then, test your luck to win the festival’s Grand Prize – an all-inclusive getaway for two at Banff’s Sunshine Mountain Lodge! For further details, go to www.rockymountainwine.com/edmonton.html!
Rocky Horror Double Feature & Halloween Spooktacular
When: October 23rd - 25th, and 31st
Location: Fort Edmonton Park
Get ready for the fort’s non-stop supernatural delights! Taking place October 23rd only at the theatre will be two classic horror flicks - House of Wax (1953) and Horror of Dracula (1958). The following days - or nights, rather - will see the fort turned into a Halloween wonderland full of fright and fun for the entire family! Trick-or-treaters welcome! But, late at night on All Hallow’s Eve, there will be a special adults-only event featuring gypsies, conjurers, and necromancers. Many packages are available for groups or individuals, so please look at www.fortedmontonpark.ca/events/signature-events for details!  
Have a chilling October, Edmonton! May you survive to see All Saint’s Day!