Occasions for greeting cards
Halloween is a custom that is usually celebrated on the evening of October 31st. With respect to this popular festival, it's mostly smaller children who dress up to frighten adults with all kinds of trickery, but who can redeem themselves by giving gifts of apples or sweets. Ever since 1965, when UNICEF started to use Halloween to collect money for the Children's Fund, the tradition has quickly spread around the globe.
The tradition can be traced back to the ancient festival that was celebrated on November 1st in honor of the Celtic death deity Samhain, meaning "End of Summer", when, on this day, it is said that people's gods would make their extraterrestrial world known by terrifying people and playing all kinds of tricks on them. Allegedly, the gods could only be appeased by being provided some kind of a sacrifice, treat or gift. According to the legend, on the evening before the festival on October 31st ,(which also marked the end of the Celtic and later Anglo-Saxon year) Samhain summoned a multitude of evil spirits, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons to be dispelled by the Druids (Celtic priests) with the help of huge fires set in high places. It was also believed that, on this date, when darkness fell, the spirits of the dead would again haunt their earthly dwellings. Even today, in Scotland and Wales, it is a custom to ignite Halloween fires and to keep the custom of introducing spirits and witches alive. The Celts were convinced that this was the only day when they were allowed to call upon the Devil to investigate their own future with respect to marriage, luck, health or death. They used this festival to drive cattle home from summer pastures and to renew their land leasing agreements. After Britain was conquered, the Romans "enriched" Halloween by adding elements of their Roman harvest festival, previously celebrated on November 1st, in honor of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
In 835 C.E., Pope Gregory XVI introduced the All Saints' Day festival in honor of the Virgin Mary and all the "Saints". Its origin, however, developed out of the Roman festival of the Consecration of Pantheon which was supposed to be the old dwelling place of all Roman gods. He apparently set November 1st as the festival's date in order to substitute one of the four major Northern European pagan worship ceremonies for a Christian one. But because the deeply ingrained customs on the evening before the festival were so strongly fixed in the old pagan tradition, the Christian ceremonies became widely secularized over the course of centuries. For instance, in Scotland, young people gathered to, what was supposed to be a game, just to find out who was going to marry whom next year as well as where, how and when. Many of these Halloween games were organized for children. Thanks to the late 19th century Irish immigrants, these traditions became popular in the United States as well. Sometimes, however, these drolleries took extreme forms as young cocky men smashed windows or overturned entire sheds. In time, the tradition was increasingly handed down to small children who started to go from house to house, threatening with tricks, but allowing themselves to be appeased by obtaining small gifts.
An early Halloween symbol in Scotland was a hollowed turnip with notched eyes, mouth and nose. The quivering candle placed inside was supposed to create a demonic atmosphere. In the US, the turnip was replaced with the larger, domestically grown pumpkin. Since 1908, whenever there's time for Halloween in the US, millions of Halloween cards are sent, mostly to children, who are quite fond of the festival. The multiple motifs of bats, black cats, monsters or skeletons printed in orange and black are intended to awaken the eeriness of the ancestral tradition.
Text: Günter Garbrecht 2000, amended 2010
Translation: Marcel Valtr, 2011