As we approach All Hallows Eve, when the worlds of the living and the dead are traditionally most closely connected, we take a peek (through our fingers) at the customs and beliefs that lurk in the shadow of our celebrations ...
Halloween's roots lie in the old Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the season of light and the start of the "dark time". Cattle were sacrificed after the harvest and large bonfires were lit for communal prayer and celebration. Over time, it also became linked with the Christian celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day at the beginning of November, when the dead were honoured.
This is also where the tradition of the Day of the Dead comes from - now two days, but originally lasting for up to a month! It's a major celebration in Mexico and many other countries, and increasingly the UK, with participants often decorating themselves with distinctive elaborate face paint and surrounding themselves with memorabilia representing the dead.
Carving and lighting pumpkins
Many Irish people used to carve turnips into lanterns and put lit embers in, to keep evil spirits away. The name Jack O'Lantern is said to have come from a legendary character who tricked the devil into keeping him safe from hell. When he died, he was barred from heaven too and was doomed to wander the earth, lighting his way with an ember from hell in a hollowed out turnip.
When Irish immigrants settled in America in the nineteenth century, they discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve than turnips - and this new custom quickly caught on. Over the past few decades, pumpkin carving has become more and more popular in Britain and this fruit (yes, it's not a vegetable!) is now emblematic of Halloween.
And in case you're wondering, the largest pumpkin in the world was grown in Belgium and weighed in at over 2,600 pounds (about 1,200 kg) - that's heavier than a small car. Imagine trying to carve that!
Trick or treating
The Celts believed that when the souls of the dead returned at Samhain, it was important to leave food and drink out for them as ritual offerings. Otherwise, the dead would be angered and bring misfortune. Sometimes people dressed up as the dead to protect themselves by fooling any wandering spirits into thinking they were dead too!
As Christianity spread, the custom of "souling" arose. Impoverished adults and children would go from door to door offering to pray for the dead in exchange for food and money. They could also be given soul cakes, small round pastries with fruit and spices and marked with a cross.
It's a far cry from today's sweet extravaganza, with children in ghoulish outfits trekking eagerly from door to door, bag or bucket waiting to be filled! According to the Retail Gazette, the UK was estimated to spend an astonishing £491 million on Halloween last year, with three quarters of those taking part spending money on pumpkins and sweets for trick and treating.
This is one of the most popular (and definitely the wettest!) party games at Halloween. This tradition combines Celtic mythology and customs with Roman influence following their invasion of Britain.
The Romans seemed to have had a god for anything and everything - their fruit goddess was called Pomona and she was symbolised by an apple. Their legends became intertwined with Celtic mythology and Celt elders often used apple pips for divining matters of love and fertility.
Unsurprisingly, the game of apple bobbing became a courting ritual. Whichever girl managed to take the first bite would be the first to marry - and if she put the apple under her pillow, she'd dream about her future partner that night. Now that's something we haven't tried yet!
What will you be doing for Halloween - will you be celebrating or staying indoors, with curtains drawn and door firmly closed? Let us know what you're up to on the spookiest night of the year!
And if you're looking for a good luck charm (just to be on the safe side), a Halloween gift or a Halloween ornament, our lovely glass Spirit Balls and Witch Balls are perfect! You can find them in our spellbinding Crystal and Spiritual Gifts Collection.
PS - there's no reason why pooches should miss out on the spooky fun! These fabulous Day of the Dead doggie bandanas make a perfect present for dogs of all shapes and sizes and doglovers too (and the monochrome design even glows in the dark!).