A lot of my social media timeline today has been occupied with whether or not we, as Australians, should be buying into an ‘Americanised’ Hallowe’en and what the hell is Hallowe’en anyway.
Against my better judgment – seriously, I should know better – I responded to a comment that in the southern hemisphere we should be celebrating Hallowe’en in May and not October. Oh, for Pete’s sake.
I do not buy into the Hallowe’en thing, neither the tradition nor the commercialisation, but for the sake of accuracy, this is what is celebrated on 31st October.
The word “Hallowe’en” is a contraction of Hallowed Evening. It is the evening before All Saints Day which falls on 1st November and All Souls Day, 2nd November. The evening before the holy day of All Saints was traditionally a time to clear any evil spirits from the house. Hence, the whole scary play acting of witches, ghosts, zombies and so forth.
The tradition began in the time of the early Celts, around 2000 years ago and prior to the introduction of Christianity to the Celtic counties. The Celts celebrated New Year midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice and the night before New Year was a time to clear the house of evil spirits. The introduction of Christianity conveniently blended the old pagan traditions with the new by putting the beginning of the church year, All Saints Day, at the beginning of the pagan new year and Hallowe'en stayed as a tradition of clearing out evil spirits, but for a slightly different reason. The adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, under the reign of Pope Gregory XIII, cemented the date at November 1. While this was no longer the beginning of the calendar year, it remained as the beginning of the holy year – All Saints Day. Hallowe'en therefore remained cemented at 31 October.
This does, of course, mean that while our northern hemisphere brothers and sisters are running amok as witches and devils through fallen leaves and hollowing out pumpkins that have just been harvested, we have spring rain and our pumpkins are still a good five months away from harvest. There is no evidence that Pope Gregory XIII came to Australia prior to his eponymous calendar becoming the world standard, so the southern hemisphere simply wasn't taken into account when these dates were arranged. In fact, it's highly likely that Pope Greg didn't even believe in the southern hemisphere - this was around the time that the church was excommunicating Galileo for daring to suggest that the sun was the centre of the (known) universe rather than the Earth.
Anyway, if Australians – and anyone else in the southern hemisphere – want to celebrate an ancient seasonal ritual at this time of year, how about we go for Beltane: the pagan festival that falls midway between the spring solstice and the summer equinox and celebrates new growth, fertility and abundance. It seems a lot more appropriate for our season, no?
Happy Beltane ... or whatever you want to celebrate!