Today is Halloween. Despite the common view that it is an American custom (and certainly it has been observed there for many years) it is in fact originally a Celtic festival. In ancient times villagers would light bonfires and wear costumes to deter ghosts. In the eighth century Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as a day to honour saints and martyrs. The previous day became know as All Hallows Eve and the Halloween.
As with most festivals various customs have become attached to them. Some reflect the original basis for the celebration and others have been added over time. The idea of costumes goes back to Celtic pagan days. Trick or treating is thought to come from medieval days in Europe and the Christian practice of “mumming”. This involved people in masks parading in streets and entering houses to perform dance or plays. In turn they would be rewarded.
In medieval England groups of people would go from parish to parish begging for “soul cakes” in exchange for praying for the souls of givers and their friends. The first record of children going from house to house for food or coins in costume comes from Scotland in 1895. This was called guising and was first recorded in the USA in 1911. The term “trick or treat” first appears in Canada in 1927.
So it is fair to say the USA did not invent Halloween. But as they often do, they have made it their own and made it much bigger. In Australia it has really only taken off in the last decade or so.
As usual there is criticism from the killjoys and nanny statists about commercialization, children walking around outdoors in the evening and eating too many sweets. The PC brigade has now gotten involved and wants to complain about costumes, which are “offensive”- whatever that may mean. Some US campuses have guides as to what can and cannot be worn so as not to cause “offence”.
How miserable must these people be that they have nothing better to do than try and determine what is an acceptable child costume for an ancient festival?
A brief glance at its history shows Halloween to have been influenced by many religions and cultures. What we have today reflects bits and pieces from the past with our own modern take.
In this world of high stress we need celebrations, which are fun. Halloween allows people of all ages to be creative and dress up. This allows us to play and have fun. Naturally a parent (or other adult) should accompany small children but walking around the neighborhood is exercise for all. In addition to this it is exercise in the fresh air.
Furthermore it allows community interaction between neighbours and can enhance a spirit of community. For those who are spiritually minded there is the added aspect of giving and receiving.
And yes there are treats. Eating sweets and chocolates by the handful everyday is hardly a good idea. But this is a once a year event. OK, throw in birthday, Christmas and Easter and you have four per year. If you eat sensibly on a daily basis it is not a problem to have treats on Halloween. If your children are used to health eating you may be surprised that they don’t actually want to eat that many sweets anyway, and certainly not on one night.
Some choose not to get involved and that is entirely appropriate for them. For those of you, like me, who regard it all as good fun, get out there and have a ball. It could be walking around with your children, going to a Halloween event, putting up some decorations or simply providing treats for those who come knocking.
What the world needs now is more fun and days of celebration. Happy Halloween to all!
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.