If you’re in Hong Kong, chances are you’ve already had your Halloween party, you cheats! Okay okay, we get it, Halloween falls on a school night and your teachers have probably scheduled at least one test for November 1. But, just to catch you up on all the history and traditions around this fun time, here are seven facts about the most spooktacular day of the year.
Halloween is actually the celebration of an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain, held to mark the end of the harvest season. That’s why people use pumpkins as decorations at Halloween today.
Samhain is between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and is considered the start of the short, dark, winter days. People believed that this was the day when the border between the world of living humans and, well, spirits, became easier to cross.
So, a bit like during the Hungry Ghost festival, people would put out food to please the spirits, hoping that in return, the spirits would give them a good winter.
Believing that spirits would walk on Earth during Halloween, humans would dress up and wear masks, hoping to fool the spirits into thinking that they too were not human. Traditionally, Halloween costumes were quite scary, but today they take on more of a pop-culture theme, so you might spot people dressed up as beautiful princesses or Marvel characters.
Another way of scaring away evil spirits or the devil was to carve scary faces into harvest vegetables. But this happened long before pumpkins from the Americas were common in Europe. So back then, they used turnips.
These carvings were called “jack-o-lanterns”, after Jack, a wicked blacksmith who was believed to have tricked the devil into not taking his soul to hell when he died. Since Jack couldn’t go to hell, but was too wicked to go to heaven, his spirit was doomed to roam Earth, looking for a home. The devil gave Jack a piece of burning coal to light his way. Jack hollowed out a turnip to protect the coal from the wind, and now his face is used as a scary Halloween decoration.
As you probably know, the ancient Romans were very powerful in Europe. They changed holidays to suit their own beliefs. When they became Christians, the Christian church turned Samhain into a holiday known as All Saints’ Day. In Mexico, this day is known as the Day of the Dead, and is celebrated on November 2.
Theme parks in most Western nations, and even a few others, usually organise special Halloween attractions. But, while fear is subjective, there is one haunted attraction that is for hard-core scare fans only.
McKamey Manor in Summertown, in the US state of Tennessee, asks visitors to sign a 40-page form, warning them that they may die. Visitors must be 18 years or older, and undergo a physical fitness test before being allowed in. The whole experience lasts 10 hours, and no one has ever completed it. According to Newsweek magazine, it only costs a bag of dog food to get in.