Are you aware of where the word Halloween comes from? Most people just know it has a holiday where we dress up in costume and wander the streets in search of treats. But the word Halloween comes from the holy day known as All Hallow’s Even which is the evening before the Christian festival and feast known as All Saints Day which then eventually turns into All Souls which is meant as a day of prayer for the dead.
Interestingly enough, the celebration itself is believed to originate from pagan autumn festivals from centuries ago, possibly Roman in nature who celebrated a festival of Pomona who was the goddess of seed and fruit. Another possibility is the Celtic celebration of Samhain which occurred during harvest time when the Britons honored their sun-god for the light that helped them grow their crops. Samhain was a god of death who gathered souls over the past year.
The night of the festival in Brittany was always solemn as it was considered the night of the dead and for the following forty-eight hours, the Bretons believed their loved one’s souls were liberated from Purgatory and let free to visit their old homes. They would many times pray by the graves of their lost loved ones and attended church for black vespers which would many times proceed to the charnel house in the cemetery to pray by the bones of those not yet interred or for whom there was no room in the cemetery. They would sing hymns and pray together for the dead. During the night a townsman would wander the streets with a lantern held aloft ringing a bell to warn all in town that it was unwise to walk abroad in the darkness due to the returning souls.
The holiday slowly evolved so All Hallow’s Eve was a day of both prayer and pleasure in England, Scotland, and Ireland even after Queen Elizabeth I forbade any observance of All Souls Day.
That’s not the only common practice that comes from England with regard to Halloween celebrations. No, in fact, trick-or-treating comes from England as well where the poor used to knock door-to-door throughout London with promises of prayer for the household’s dead if they would provide what was called a soul cake which was a shortbread loaf with currants in it. The tradition of wearing costumes has been attributed to masquerading and pantomimes of medieval morality tales that warned of torment in the afterlife because of committing sin.
Gloom and Doom
Well, now that you’ve heard all of the gloom and doom associated with Halloween and how it came to be, would you believe that it is still celebrated in London. It is interesting that it does not carry the same hype as it does in America. The great Irish immigration to North America during the potato famine brought the Halloween traditions and established an immense popularity there although it is less religious ceremony and more secular. In London there is still fanfare with decorations set out in shops and such. There are quite a few Halloween-themed parties and festivals as well. It seems year over year London is reclaiming its Halloween heritage and providing absolutely frightful frights.
For those Londoners in search of something to do to celebrate the Halloween season and get a fright or two in before having to put up the costumes until next year, I’ve comprised a list of different things to do during this frightful season. Some are for singles while others are for families so pick and choose and get your scare on!
The London Dungeon
Just the word dungeon conjures up images of death and despair, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter how young or how old or how deep into the night’s celebration you are, coming to London’s Dungeon should not be missed. It is a wonderful experience, complete with two crazy rides and some of the best theater you’ll catch up close. They have 15 various shows, Sweeny Todd among them. For around £20 each, patrons will have a great time as over 20 actors perform on a 360-degree stage.
200-Year-Old Haunted Bridge Boat Ride
Okay, okay. I’ll come clean. It really isn’t 200 years old. It’s only 194 years old. But come on, that’s still crazy old, right? It is spooky too. It is sponsored by the London Canal Museum who have been operating this attraction for years. It is great for those families in and around Islington. Kids get glow sticks and a bit of sweets while on board. The chaperones offer ghost stories from as far back as 1640. They have tales from 1730, 1830, 1930, and yes even 2030. No, it isn’t a typo! They also have a treasure hunt and face painting. Booking isn’t required but highly recommended as the demand can be quite high.
Something Else to Try – The London Eye
This one has something for the family and for the partiers in the crowd. There are mixologists professionally provided by ‘The Cocktail Trading Co.’ to offer trick or sweet, bitters or sweets among the many libations they’ll have on hand.
For children they will have great views as they attend the one and only Witch Academy and join the previous ghouls on a night of fun for all wizards in training. Hosts dressed in theme costumes will take an interactive tour of the London Eye with magic produced by sorcerers and their spells all while 135 metres above London. Each graduate will receive a special activity pack notifying everyone that they have officially joined the Witch Academy Alumni.
The Ghost Bus Tours
The hosts of this endeavor make it a year-round party and immerse those patrons brave enough to board the bus in the sick and twisted history of hundreds of years of London’s horrifying past. Offering a taste of the macabre, this tour offers a look at London’s brutal past. Make sure to have cameras at the ready as there may be more than one haunt longing to make an appearance.