Published 31 Oct 2018
Halloween or Trick or Treat? The former is believed to be the church's attempt to blend an earlier festival into the ecclesiastical calender by rebranding the Celtic Samhain (usually pronounced 'Soween) as All Hallow's Eve, whilst the latter is basically a rather American and distinctly more commercial affair. Historically, the Celtic tribe which inhabited the North East south of the Tyne were the Brigantes (of whom Cartimandua was once leader). They knew the Tees Bay as 'Dunum Sinus' - The Bay of the Fortification; unfortunately the location of this structure remains uncertain. One of their largest sites in this area was at Stanwick St John (not far from Scotch Corner); it was excavated by the well known archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler, and is open to the public.
To gain some insight into why and what was celebrated at this time of year, one needs to bear in mind that the Celts were fascinated by (and attributed special qualities to) periods of transition (e.g. day into night or season into season). They considered the veil between their world and that of their ancestors to be particularly penetrable at Samhain, and used this to honour their forebears (and doubtless they wished to learn from previous generations' experience - a society without written records must have valued received words of wisdom most highly). On a more day to day level, they were largely involved in agriculture, so the need to batten down the hatches to survive the bitter winter months must have required the preservation of food and slaughter of animals for meat, whilst keeping enough seeds and breeding livestock etc. for the next spring.
Along with the practicalities of filling their coffers with preserved meat, grains etc., it is thought that livestock slaughter resulted in a temporary food glut. This also gave the opportunity for a jolly good feast; a feast where their ancestors were remembered and considered welcome (doubtless in the same way as a modern family sits at the Christmas dinner table and remembers Great Great Grandmother and her wonderful baking)! Less welcome spirits were discouraged by the wearing of disguises or by displaying fearsome objects - it is said that the turnip lantern/pumpkin with it's grotesque carvings has roots in the 'scare off the scaries' principle. In the days before artificial light or central heating, the populace would surely find the bonfires used to cook the food to be doubly welcome and comforting.
So, effectively it is the end of one cycle - a pause before the next turn of the wheel of the seasons. Happy New Year everybody!