Originating from the ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain, Halloween marks the beginning of the ‘dark half’ of the winter. It's a time associated with spirits and mischief, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. As we position ourselves as the Home of Halloween, here are ten things you may not know about the famous holiday...
1. JACK O' LANTERNS
Before pumpkins, Celts in the UK used to fill turnips with glowing embers to ward off evil spirits and stop fairies settling in their homes. The name itself comes from a phenomenon where strange ghostly light was seen flickering over peat bogs, something locals nicknamed the 'will o the wisp' or the 'jack-o'-lantern'.
2. DRESSING UP
Why do we dress up for Halloween?! Halloween was thought to be the one night of the year that spirits roamed the earth. To outsmart these ghostly beings, people would put on masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits and leave them alone.
3. TRICK OR TREATING
Trick or treating appears to have hit it off predominantly in the United States as a way of appeasing the spirits that roamed the earth in some way. One theory proposes that during Samhain, the Celts would leave out food to placate the souls and ghosts and spirits travelling the Earth that night. Eventually, people began dressing up as these beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink.
4. APPLE BOBBING
This game traces its origins to a Roman courting ritual that was part of a festival called Pomona, after the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiple variations existed, but the gist was that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game. When the Romans conquered the UK, the Pomona festival was blended with the similarly timed Samhain, a precursor to Halloween.
5. BLACK AND ORANGE
We all know black and orange are synonymous with Halloween but have you ever wondered exactly why? The traditional colours of Halloween represent the “death” of summer while orange symbolises the start of the autumn harvest season.
6. BLACK CATS
Black cats have long been associated with bad luck and in turn, Halloween. Why? They were believed to be sidekicks of witches, also known as ‘familiars’ and appear in all aspects of popular culture from Hocus Pocus to Harry Potter. No good witch would be seen without one.
Why are bed sheets associated with ghosts? For years, artists used to depict the dead as how they looked when they were alive, but this led to much confusion with audiences unable to differentiate between the living and the dead. During the 19th and 20th centuries, artists started to indicate ghosts by drawing them draped in burial shrouds—which, in turn, look like the modern-day bed sheet.
Witches hark back to the image of the pagan goddess, the crone, also known as “the old one” or “Earth Mother.” The witch was honoured at Samhain because she was a symbol of wisdom, change, and new seasons. Celts believed departed souls entered the crone’s cauldron after death and waited there to be reincarnated. The witch has been vilified and venerated in equal measure but remains a popular Halloween symbol.
Candy or ‘sweets’ as we call them in the UK, were not associated with Halloween until the 19th century. The treat you would get in ‘trick or treat’ could historically have been anything from pennies and toys to fruit and nuts but changed in the 1950s when candy companies began selling individual wrapped sweets marketed seasonally towards Halloween.
During Samhain, the Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn, attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medieval folklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with several superstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.
This Halloween, The London Dungeon are inviting guests to scream, laugh and then scream again as they brave their way through London’s scariest outing; The Home of Halloween Hide and Seek Show. The Home of Halloween Hide and Seek show runs until 3rd November 2019. To book tickets, click HERE.