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Sunday, November 1, 1998
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Halloween: Festival of trick or treat

By Sewak Nayyar

WE might be the people with the largest number of fairs and festivals, comprising all hues and humours, but we have nothing to match the charisma of Halloween. The fun and frolic, the spirit and the supernatural that goes with the celebration of Halloween in the Christian world, has no parallel in our culture.

The closest that an Indian festival could come to Halloween could be Lohri (celebrated more in the northern parts of the country). in both these festivals young boys and girls, dressed up in their best attires, go out with the sole aim of collecting "treats" from neighbours and friends.

Whereas Lohri might just stop at the consolidation of "treats", followed by a family warming up around the bonfire in the evening to dispel the winter chill. Nobody really knows the real significance of the event. Halloween goes much beyond into the realms of romance, fantasy and phantasm.

The word "Halloween" is actually the short form of Hallow Even (eve), referring to the fact that it occurs the evening before All Saint’s Day, November 1. In England, this day was formerly called All Hallows Day or Hallowmas. In 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. This holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New Year.

As per another story, on this particular day, the disembodied spirits of all those who died in the preceding year came back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for afterlife. The Celts even believed that all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the world of spirits to intermingle with the living.

Since none of the living human beings would like to be possessed, the villagers extinguished the fires in their homes on the evening of October 31, to make them cold and undesirable. They even dressed up in all kinds of weird and spooky costumes and noisily paraded around the neighbourhood in order to frighten away the spirits looking for bodies to possess.

The thrust of practices, however, changed with the passage of time and became more and more ritualised. As the belief in the spirits possessing the human bodies gradually waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts and witches also took on a more ceremonial role. It gave way to the use of symbols of black cats, death’s head cut from a pumpkin, human skeletons and skulls.

In present times, boys and girls put on all kinds of attractive costumes and masks on the Halloween Day. They greet their neighbours, chanting self-composed, threatening verses in unison (as done in the case of Lohri too) such as:

Trick or treat!

Give me something good to eat

If you don’t, I don’t care

I will pull down your....

Most persons prefer to give candies, cookies, or apples as a "treat" rather than face the "trick", which could be a destructive prank representing mischievous behaviour, attributed to witches and fairies.

One of the basic tenets of witchcraft is supposed to be the control of another person’s will by the use of fear. Even in jest, when one threatens to punish another with a "trick", if a "treat" is not given, one is only imitating an occult practice. And by doing so, the young ones invariably consolidate a plethora of "treats" on Halloween Day.

Another essential feature of Halloween Day is the custom of Jack-o’-Lantern. As per a common myth, Jack, a notorious drunkard and trickster, once tricked Satan. He was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways and was also denied access to Hell for having tricked the devil. He was, instead, given a single ember, placed in a hollowed-out turnip, to light his way through the frigid darkness.

The Irish used turnips as their Jack-o’-Lanterns originally. When they migrated to the USA, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips and the Jack-o’-Lantern (in the USA) came to be a hollowed-out pumpkin. It was carved into an odd face and lit with an ember or a candle.

Unlike Lohri, Halloween is also associated with parties. The place is usually decorated with figures of goblins, ghosts, witches, cats, brooms, Jack-o’ — Lanterns and bobbing apples. The participants at such parties generally don ghoulish and eerie dresses. They dance devilishly and yell like demons.

Halloween is celebrated every year with gusto and zeal the world over. Some consider it a kind of demon worship, while others think it is just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual.Back

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