Since its inception in the eighth and ninth century, Halloween has been celebrated in countries around the world. University of Sydney experts weigh in on the festival's origins and its rising popularity in Australia.
Halloween is no longer just an American affair, with a number of other countries - including Australia - increasingly embracing the associated quirks and spookiness in recent years. But what’s the real meaning behind this scary celebration, and where did it start?
Dr Dominique Wilson, who completed a PhD at the University of Sydney’s Department of Studies in Religion with a focus on the occult and pre-Christian mythology, explains that Halloween's roots date back some 2000 years ago.
The term Halloween is derived from All Hallow’s Eve, and the Catholic Church’s celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day on the 1st and 2nd November, which can be traced back to the eighth and ninth centuries.
"The Catholic Church’s decision to hold these celebrations on these dates was influenced by a much older Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”) which started at sundown on 31 October."
Dr Wilson says Samhain is traditionally one of the two days of the year when the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds drop, allowing the spirits of the dead and denizens of the otherworld access to both worlds.
"These otherworldly visitors include the sidhe (or fairies) and other creatures from folklore and legend often associated with playing tricks on humans and other mischief-making."
“Many of the customs and beliefs associated with Halloween or Samhain stem from older rituals and folklore which have been passed down through generations. These include numerous rituals for divining the future and the custom of dressing up as something ‘other’ at Halloween, a practice which is still popular today.”
The modern celebration of Halloween is a tradition that dates back to the 1840s when Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine came to America, explains Professor Carole Cusack, Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Studies in Religion.
"Although Hallowe’en was known to earlier colonists, the Irish brought folk customs including the creation of jack-o’-lanterns, hollowed out vegetables, specifically pumpkins in America, with faces carved on them and candles inside to illuminate them.
"Trick-or-treating, dressing up in costume and knocking on doors requesting gifts, is also known from Scottish and Irish folklore."
As questions arise over Australia's participation in the festival, Dr Rodney Taveira, a lecturer in American Studies from the University's United States Studies Centre, says the rising popularity of Halloween in Australia might be attributed to three factors:
Dr Taveira says Australians, especially younger ones, are looking to the US with greater frequency and accessibility, with global popular culture taking many of its cues from the US.
Halloween will only continue to entrench itself as an event in Australia each year. It has become a part of Australian culture and has become normalised by its repeated appearance on American television, film and social media.
“The previous resistance that existed amongst Australians toward the US has waned as our focus on the UK ‘ages out’, and global youth culture is increasingly centred on the US.”