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Halloween Rituals

Originating from a fear of ghosts and the onset of winter, Halloween’s eerie roots explain why we mark the occasion today.

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Halloween is believed to originate from the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. As 1 November was considered to be the Celtic New Year, it marked the end of the harvest and the start of the winter. This is a time in between autumn and winter when people believed it was important to light bonfires and wear scary outfits to frighten away ghosts. This was because winter was seen to be a time of cold and death. It was also believed that ghosts of the dead returned to earth at Samhain, damaging crops and causing unfavourable weather conditions.

To ward them off, sacrifices of crops and animals were made in the bonfires, while people wore costumes made from animal heads and skins. It also became a time of fortune-telling as the treacherous wintertime approached. Orange and black have since become the favoured Halloween colours, representing both the shades of autumn and the darkness of winter. The Samhain festival that led to the Halloween we know today is still referred to in modern language nowadays, as the fear of Halloween is known as Samhainophobia!

Sometime later in the 8th century, 1 November was designated All Saints’ Day by Pope Gregory III. This was a time for honouring saints and it amalgamated some of the traditions of the earlier Samhain festivals. The evening before All Saints’ Day was known as Hallows’ Eve, and later Halloween.

In the Middle Ages, the first version of trick or treating emerged. Children and poor adults would dress up around Halloween time and go from door to door, begging for food or money. In exchange, they would sing songs or say prayers. When immigrants from England and Ireland flooded to the United States, the tradition was thus transported across the pond. It’s only been in the last few decades that trick or treating has become more of a fun activity for children.

The carving of pumpkins to create lanterns also has its roots in Ireland. Folktales described how a drunken farmer called Jack was turned away from both heaven and hell after he died. Jack had to walk in purgatory in total darkness until he made a lantern from a turnip and a piece of burning coal. It thus became a Halloween tradition in Irish communities to make turnip lamps – or Jack o’ Lanterns – to scare lost spirits away. When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they replaced turnips for pumpkins – which they found growing in abundance – and the rest is history.

While nowadays we’re not so worried about the dead returning to earth – although fans of The Walking Dead may disagree – Halloween has become a ritual and a social tradition. Whether it’s for the pumpkin soup made from carved out Halloween pumpkins or trick-or-treating, there’s something in it for all age groups.

At The Runnymede on Thames, we’ve embraced the modern day ritual of making Halloween all about family fun. In our Leftbank restaurant, we’ve designed a special, spook-tacular dinner buffet menu that offers a choice of food ideal for all the family. As well as Halloween inspired dishes and a ghostly themed dessert display, a spooky cocktail will also be served to you at the table. Come along on Halloween itself or any evening between Monday 30th October and Saturday 4th November. Eat, drink and be scary.

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