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.