by Carolyn • Posted in Uncategorized
I am very excited to welcome Thomas Emson to the blog today. Thomas is the author of numerous horror books including vampire novel Skarlet, werewolf novels Maneater & Prey and most recently Zombie Britannica. Thomas’ fifth novel, Krimson, the second part of ‘The Vampire Trinity’, is out in November. He is currently writing Pariah, a novel based on Jack the Ripper.
It was Stephen King’s vampire novel Salem’s Lot that fired his ambition to be a writer. Thomas was born in Wales but now lives in Kent with his wife.
The True Meaning Of Halloween
by Thomas Emson
WHAT’S Halloween about these days? It seems primarily aimed at making money: shops selling plastic masks of vampires and werewolves; gangs of youths wrenching cash from pensioners under the guise of ‘trick or treat’. Consumerism has won the day. We have forgotten the true meaning of Halloween.
But did it ever have a ‘true meaning’? Does any religious festival have one?
Church leaders moan that we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. The supposed birth of a supposed messiah should be celebrated, they say; Christmas is not an opportunity to shop until you drop, to batter the credit cards and the debits cards so they are forced to hibernate for rest of the year at the bottom of your drawer. We should, say the so-called traditionalists, contemplate the arrival of the Baby Jesus at Christmas. We should spend time with our families, singing carols, probably around the Christmas tree.
Christmas tree? Hang on… did you just whine about the fact we’ve forgotten the true meaning of Christmas and then mention a Christmas tree? A Christmas tree which is of non-Christian origin. Much like the mistletoe and the holly. Much like the giving of presents.
Hmm… ‘true meaning’ did you say?
Christmas Day itself – December 25 – was only a substitute for a pagan festival held on that date to celebrate the birth of the unconquered sun. And that festival very likely replaced another one: another forgotten god; another ‘true meaning’ lost in time.
The same can be said of Easter. Its ‘true meaning’, again, is claimed to be Christian: the supposed resurrection, this time, of a supposed messiah. But the primary consumerist concern during this festival is to sell chocolate eggs. And the egg thing is definitely pagan in origin. The word ‘Easter’ itself is likely to be a derivation of the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre.
‘True meaning’? If you can nail it, I’d really like to know what it is.
So back we come to Halloween.
As a child, for me, it meant witches, pumpkins, and dunking apples. I don’t see many pumpkins today – apart from on the shelves at Tesco: the hard sell at Halloween, once more. But even that tradition is not really related to October 31. It only became associated with the festival in the 1800s.
So what’s the ‘true meaning’ of Halloween? It is probably linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which meant ‘summer’s end’. The Ancient Britons, ancestors of the Welsh of whom I am one, had a festival called ‘Calan Gaeaf’, celebrated on November 1.
When I was young, Halloween was never Halloween: it was ‘Nos Calan Gaeaf’, or ‘the night before “Calan Gaeaf”’’.
But is this its true meaning? Again, like Christmas, like most other religious festivals, that’s probably not the source: thousands of years before Samhain, it very likely had a different ‘true meaning’, and those long-gone Celts thought, ‘Oh that old religion had a date for their festival; let’s use that one for Samhain.’
True meaning is relative.
So maybe Halloween does mean plastic masks and ‘trick or treat’. It does, now; as well as spending money and making money; maybe it even means swindling money using threats, though I wouldn’t approve of that custom.
Religions, superstitions, call them what you will, are superbly adaptable. They will pilfer traditions from older beliefs and slot them into their own doctrines; they will press-gang the holy days of local creeds and claim them as their own.
Now, consumerism is doing the same thing. The great faith of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has scooped up the best bits from ancient rituals and embraced them within its own, central dogma: sell, sell, sell.
And what should we do? Well, like everything else – Christmas, Easter – just embrace it for what it is. It doesn’t mean much at the end of the day. It’s meant to be a laugh. I enjoy it, just like I enjoy Christmas (I love Christmas); just like I enjoy munching through chocolate eggs at Easter.
Wear your masks; carve your pumpkins; dunk your apples.
We will be having a horror film marathon, and so far the list includes (obviously) John Carpenter’s Halloween; Spanish zombie smash, Rec; the remake of Dawn Of The Dead; and caving scare-fest, The Descent.
So that’s what Halloween’s about for me: fun and fear.
The only thing I’d like to see banned is the fleecing of the elderly by feral yobs. And that might happen. Because ultimately every belief-system gets rid of its ugly bits and keeps the nice ones. After all, it makes it easier to sell.
You can find out more about Thomas and his books here: