Today, 31st October, as well as being the birthday of my daughter (Happy birthday Verity!) is also All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as it’s more commonly known.

Halloween is the first day of Hallowtide, which includes the Feast of All Hallows, also known as All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on 1st November and which is a feast day in honour of all the saints and martyrs, and the Feast of All Souls, which is celebrated on 2nd November and is a day to remember and pray for the dead.

The religious festival of Halloween actually has its roots in the Pagan celebrations of Samhain, the Celtic new year festival which was celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November. It was believed that at Samhain the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead was at its thinnest and that the souls of the dead and evil spirits could walk the earth. Church bells were rung, bonfires were lit and people wore masks to ward off these spirits and to send them on their way. The Christian Church incorporated these celebrations into those of All Saints and All Souls, with the evening of 31st October becoming a night to mark the passage of souls through Purgatory, the place where souls resided between death and the Last Judgement.

Today’s practice of children going “trick or treating” has its roots in “souling”. On All Hallows Eve, poor people and children would go door-to-door begging for alms, or “souling” as it was called. Alms and soul cakes would be given to them. Each of these soul cakes were said to represent a soul in Purgatory and in exchange for being given a cake the souler would promise to pray for the dead of that household.

In this “Tudor Cooking with Claire” video, I make soul cakes:

Do you or your family have any special Halloween traditions?

Notes and Sources

  • Tudor Feast Days, Tudor Society e-book.

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6 thoughts on “Happy Halloween, or All Hallows Eve!”
  1. Happy birthday to your daughter Claire and happy Halloween to all the AB followers, in the evening there’s a few kids round my way who knock on the doors but I must admit, I find it a pain, most people may think I’m Miss.Grumpy but when it’s dark I lock up early and put on my nightclothes and am settled for the evening watching tv, so I don’t like to be disturbed at that time, I’m usually eating sweets myself then ha! Really tho when I was a girl there wasn’t a big deal about Halloween like it is today, the trick and treat came from America and I know there they have dressed up for years and it’s like an annual holiday for them, but over here it was casually mentioned just as a date on the calendar with a few references to the souls of the dead and in early times young girls would cast a spell to see if their husband to be would appear in their mirror, it certainly wasn’t the big thing it is today with the ghastly costumes and huge plastic pumpkins for sale in the shops, now even the bakers sell cakes decorated with spiders webs and so forth, and Cadburys and Kiplings produce Halloween versions of their mini rolls and French fancies, for one day it seems pointless but I suppose it’s fun for the youngsters, I find it a pity that our bonfire night on November 5th has died out, I used to love dressing up the guy and putting him in an old pram, or wheelbarrow, whatever you could find and go out in the misty mornings and some people would give you something, one old lady up my way would give us toffees (which we thought was rather mean), but they were good days, and there was a firework display in the town park the Saturday before, you only heard fireworks on the 5 th in homes and maybe a few nights after as the parents would try to use them all up, but now it gos on forever, my poor cat hates them and always dives in the shoe cupboard, they sometimes go on for two weeks and even on Remembrance Sunday which I find is a disgrace, but to a lot of young people they not really bothered about that which I suppose in a way I understand as the wars happened long before their time, but I think the government should make it illegal to use fireworks on the 11th of November.

    1. It was done more up here in Scotland, going out guising was great fun. Though in the late 60s and the 70’s we hollowed out neeps (turnip/swede) it took days and there were many broken and bent spoons and knives, as they were solid. But you could carry them on a string handle.
      No there wasn’t all the paraphernalia and it has become very commercialised now, we had to make our costumes out of old sheets, clothes and the like, and we knew where we could and couldn’t knock.
      There are a lot of thoughtless people out there, and those who don’t care what their kids get up to and it these ones that spoil it for the rest. But on the whole it’s children having fun, and its for one evening of the year only, as bonfire night was at one time. But that goes on for weeks now. Fireworks come into the shops far to early, and the age laws don’t stop older kids getting their hands on them.
      I personally think they are more of a nuisance than kids guising. For a start they are incredibly dangerous and more disturbing than knocks on the door, they stress animals, cause injury to humans and animals unintentional or not, fires, even death.
      Halloween was a celebration of life past, present and future, the celebration of the harvest, and hopes for the coming year, and of remembrance of those who had died. A positive festival.
      If there was a choice between stopping one of them for me it would be Bonfire night. Stop selling fireworks to the public, and have organised displays only, after all what are we celebrating, here, the failing of a plot and the horrific torture and execution of a man, it’s barbaric really.

      1. Here. Here. Anyone watching Gunpowder on BBC should rise up and insist on Bonfire Night either being banned or at least fireworks restricted to the open, safe and well organised family community displays. I also think these should be licensed as there have been accidents here as well. Fireworks are indeed on sale far too early. For some reason people also think it’s appropriate during the week to let them off after midnight. The plot failed and it is the preservation of the King that was celebrated but we must remember that several people suffered terrible long and painful terrible deaths. This is not something to celebrate in modern times.

  2. I am not a fan of trick or treat, but at least the kids here come as a group now, after some unfortunate incidents in the past, as we have several elderly people who don’t want to be disturbed. I will be enjoying a nice meal anyway so nothing stops for that and its European football tonight

    Moan over. I will be remembering the souls of loved ones and like the old idea of soul cakes for the poor. It is also Celtic New Year so Happy New Year.

    Happy Birthday to your daughter, Verity. Have a lovely day. Also Happy Luther Day.

    On this day Martin Luther did a none event which according to myth kick started the Reformation. He wrote to Archbishop Albrecht and sent his 95 Thesis or rather questions on the theology and commercial use of indulgences. If you read his biographical accounts by Philipp Melancthon, the true founder of Luther’s religion, we get the story that Luther was so inflamed that he made his views public by hammering them onto the town notice board on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This was not, however, the start of the Reformation.

    Luther’s act was not that revolutionary, nor was it unique. Others had criticized the sale of indulgences, including many of his so called opponents. He was also merely inviting debate at this point and this too was common in late Medieval Catholic Europe. Luther at this point was a lecturer at a University, a thinker and teacher and a fairly obscure monk. He was not a reformer and he was not interested in breaking from or founding a new branch of the Church. He was not even a true academic in the accepted sense, despite his doctorate, because his University did not have a renowned reputation. Luther was not a very widely published man, but he was going to be. The story of his putting some form of list from these Thesis on the door of the Church, not Cathedral as we are often taught, 500 years ago today may or not be true, but he possibly did publish something about them in order to invite a debate from his students, regularly held on Friday. The significance would not come from his original Thesis, which was practically ignored by the Bishop and forwarded to Rome for comment, but in the numbers of pamphlets and tracts he published in the months to come.

    While this may not have started a Reformation, the Controversial writing which followed, which reached a wider audience, giving Luther a fame he may not have sought but was to get used to. Luther was a somewhat impatient character, he could be a firebrand once he got into something and he faced a local German church which didn’t want to reform, nor see the need to. The problem was that the Bishop had paid for his post and borrowed a lot of money. Fugger, the money man suggested he ask about using the revival of the sale of indulgences locally, and use half of the money for his debt and for half for Rome for Saint Peters. Pope Leo had issued this indulgence to pay for the new Saint Peters in Rome, but actually this was not official Church teaching, but an abuse, which is why Luther complained.

    Martin Luther would go on to develop his theological ideas and his justification came from his Scripture translation, when he made a decision to reform the Church locally. In his writing he became more abusive and his writing was condemned for many different reasons, not merely on the basis of his Thesis. His personal attacks on Pope Leo didn’t help but he was mostly hindered because of a political and financial reality he could not change without direct action. He was called to debate in Leipzig in 1518 and he also wrote to and gained the support of Frederick the Wise calling him to the reform the German Church unilaterally. By the time of the Diet of Worms in 1520, before the Emperor Charles V, which was the true turning point in Luther’s life, he was widely known, widely read and popular. He hoped to persuade the authorities but he was more or less led into a false sense of security. He was greeted with cheering crowds, but his tracts had become a bit much for the Church and afterwards he was Excommunicated, or rather given 60 days to recant and then he would be Excommunicated. Luther burned the Bull and, well he wasn’t so happy about Pope Leo as his actions and tracts which followed showed.

    Luther was ‘kidnapped ‘ on his way home and taken into protection at Wartberg Castle which meant he could write and publish and this he did, translating the New Testament into German and putting his ideas into this translation. One thing he got wrong is the Greek does not say faith alone, this was his reading. However, he wrote popular tracts such as The Freedom of the Christian Man which people saw as being free and to strive for more rights. An unfortunate understanding of Luther’s theology which was well developed by now, was the desire of vast numbers of the peasants and artisans of both rural and town areas right across Saxony and neighbouring areas and later other Germanic states to sue for social reform.

    The outcome was the Peasants Revolt of 1525, which left 25,000 people dead or executed. Luther wrote against the rise of the ordinary people and was outraged that his beliefs had been used in this way. He encouraged the Emperor and Princes to act and he collided with others who wanted to close the cloisters or convents, dispoil the churches or destroy images. He even argued with those who wanted much plainer worship and only two Sacraments as Luther actually noted three in Scripture. The nature of the Blessed Sacrament was also an issue between Luther and others led by Zwingli as was the basis if fasting and other rules and traditional customs. He had condemned Thomas Muntzer for his violence and he wrote a very powerful if rather inflamed attack on the papacy in his Babylonian Captivity of the Church and he himself has been condemned as anti Semitic in his The Jews and Their Lies, and rightly so. However, twenty years earlier he wrote positive tracts on the Jewish people based on the Epistle to the Hebrews which emphasises the Jewish birth and national identity of Jesus, so the Jewish people are God’s people. He wanted to evangelize. Luther saw himself as Evangelical, not Protestant. The Church he wanted was Evangelical, not Protestant.

    Whatever the storms on the way the Church Luther and Melanchthon settled for was in 1530 published in the Ausberg Confession. Martin Luther would continue to write, preach, developing his theological arguments of salvation via faith in Christ alone, to argue and fight with anyone who disagreed and married to a runaway, high born nun, Katherine von Boro, to raise six children. He was answered in England by Henry Viii in his Defence of the Seven Sacraments and by Sir Thomas More and other scholars. However, when Henry read another reformer William Tyndale, he knew he had to break from Rome in order to sort out his marriage mess. He also sought the opinion of the German reformers on his divorce. They weren’t impressed and wrote against it. In England the tracts of Luther and the Bible of Tyndale arrived in ships and became well read and so the start of a Reformation began in England. Had it not been for the divorce, however and Thomas Cranmer finding himself in favour as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, I doubt it would have been more than a grass roots movement, because here it was enforced, just as any attempt to reintroduce traditional faith was. The Reformation led to holy war across Europe and bitter reprisals on both sides, so just why are people celebrating? It may have been a good thing in the eyes of its supporters, for them it brought some kind of freedom, but to others it destroyed the unity and holy things they had known for centuries. The Bible was eventually authorized by both the Catholic Church and Evangelicals in many languages, which is a good thing and via Trent and many reformation Catholic Councils she went back to the central truths without Martin Luther.

    Luther had a point and he would have been appalled to see the Church split. Thankfully moves of unity at local levels and recognition of each other, not as heretics or papists but as brother and sister Christian Churches and people make this Anniversary one everyone can appreciate. It is not so much celebration but commemoration which should mark this event in history. At the end of the day it does not matter if he banged his Thesis on the door of his Church as a public notice or sent them in a letter to his Archbishop. What matters is that in his works which followed he made the observations that something was up and challenged people to think about the deeper meaning of what they did in the Sacrament of Penance and about God’s Word. That makes him worth a 500 years Anniversary, because he made people think.

  3. The pre-Christian Halloween, when souls of the dead and evil spirits rose up and appeared in your locale, is pretty spooky. The Christian spin on it is pretty clever in the circumstances, yet surely a most horrible, unconscionable thing. And yet, given that, the brilliant classicist Jane Harrison, did tell us that our really primitive ancestors seemed to equate the concept of evil with contagion – so evil was a kind of flying bacillus and hugely infectious. Ipso we get rituals of cleansing and purification, necessary to combat these horrors. To us what springs to mind is ‘spring cleaning’, which I understand witches did, and immersion in water which christians did and do, and so forth. Purgatory, where such rituals take place, is a rather neat answer to this primitive impulse. And I love the ritual of soul cakes – you pray for my relative … I give you a cake!
    As I type, fireworks are going off. This is modern man’s take on Halloween, then? My two year old Collie is terrified. Today, this is my main concern. How times change!!

    1. Hi Christine, yes there are fireworks going off somewhere near here as well, a few streets away, but loud enough. It’s really bad for animals. We had calming drops from the vet and a spray you can buy in Pets at Home or a plug in. They give of feremones and calm the doggie or cat down. They cost a few pounds but last for several uses.

      Yes, the old rituals at the stones were to purify and to protect and keep the gouls and spirits at bay. Tonight the door to the underworld opens and the living and dead could meet. You honour your lost loved ones and made an offering to the gods for protection. Then you had a party. The old priests dressed up in masquerade and played the parts of good and evil spirits. Thanks were given for the harvest and the people settled down for the winter. The way this has been changed can be mistaken into horror and terror. As Christians we have the hope of victory over death and darkness and the next few days we remember all who have gone before and thank the Lord for them. We have a feast to honour the holy souls and all of the saints. November is dedicated entirely to remembering those who have passed.

      I don’t buy into all the daftness of ghosts and witches on Halloween but like so many other cultures do believe our loved ones are with us, in our hearts at least. I find the Day of the Dead in so many places fascinating where they go out and have a picnic in the cemetery and with the tombs, or they have special services and other traditional customs. Variety I suppose really is the spice of life.

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