Student Life

Halloween: The Origins of the Spooky Holiday

By Laure Deriaz

The falling of leaves, shorter days and sudden drops in temperature are all signifiers of the end of summer and the true ushering in of autumn. One pivotal autumnal celebration is, of course Halloween. The semi-holiday is basically the best excuse to get drunk and wear ridiculous or provocative – if that’s your style – costumes or on the other end of the spectrum, participate in the more kid-appropriate trick-or-treating. In recent times, it has developed into something almost unrecognisable, from its various origins ranging from Pagan, Celtic and traditional harvest festivals.  

Remembrance and honouring the deceased are at the root of Halloween’s many predecessors, like All Souls Day and the Celtic Samhain. It is said that this period of time is when souls and spirits have the easiest access to the living world hence people paid homage to them by providing food and other offerings. This tradition is still prevalent in the Mexican Día de los muertos where pictures and photographs of deceased ancestors are displayed in households so they can reunite with their living family for a day.

Nowadays, however, Halloween is characterised by fun, playful mischief and spooking. Halloween parties, haunted houses, scary movie marathons and pumpkin carving are the more typical things to do. Nevertheless, certain activities can find their origins in the older festivities. For example, trick-or-treating is a confluence of various traditions: Ancient Celts would dress up as evil spirits (even dressing up for Halloween comes from ancient traditions!) and throughout medieval Europe it was the norm to dress up in costumes, perform tricks and beg rich people for soul cakes. Apple bobbing, a regular at children Halloween parties, was previously used as a form of divination in Western Europe.

Despite the festivity’s ties to Europe, it has become synonymous with American tradition which has transformed it from a more occult practice to what we know now. In fact, the current presence of Halloween in the Old World is rather small. In Geneva, there are few Halloween events, barring the typical clubbing/party events (Friday’s Grad Party event for example) and maybe some informal neighbourhood trick-or-treating in suburban areas with large amounts of expats. The fact that shopping centres in Geneva, like Manor have already put up a Christmas display shows the lack of importance attached to the Autumnal holiday. However, Halloween’s popularity has grown in Geneva in recent years. If you want to participate in some spooky events there are some, like Village du Soir’s Halloween party tonight and its Pueblo de los Muertos on Saturday, or a futuristic Halloween concert/rave hosted by Creative Artisanz in a secret venue on Friday, so keep an eye out!

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