On the first of November, known as All Saints Day in the Christian calendar, the lives of the dead are honoured and celebrated by relatives and friends. All Hallows’ Eve is the night before, now better known as Hallowe’en. Hallow (or hallowed) means holy or sacred; ‘Hallowe’en’ is derived from the compression of All Hallows’ Even. It has now been further simplified into Halloween and has done wonders for the pumpkin industry!
The celebration originates more than 2000 years ago, when the Celtic druids occupied Great Britain and some parts of Europe. On the thirty-first of October, they celebrated the last day of the year in the Celtic calendar, a night when witches and warlocks mingled freely with ordinary folk. Now considered the pagan festival of Samhain, the revels associated with that night signified the end of summer and the onset of winter. In many minds, the dank, black chill of the grave and death itself very often had associations with dark and cold winter days.
It was believed that on the night of Samhain, the cloak between the spirit world and the living was but a thin veil, allowing the dead to rise up and come forth from their graves. Huge bonfires were lit to assist the fading sun god and the people would disguise themselves to avoid being recognized. Gradually, witches, vampires, demons, werewolves and fairies were also thought to emerge with the darkness of winter, to join the spirits of the dead in a night of rejoicing.
In order to claw back some semblance of control, All Saints’ Day was created by the Church in 835. Originally held on the thirteenth of May to commemorate all martyrs and saints without a special day, it was moved to November as an exercise in damage limitation and thus Hallowe’en replaced Samhain.
Prior to the late seventeen hundreds, Hallowe’en was considered a night of fear and dread. While malicious spirits, itinerant demons, other supernatural beings and wicked hobgoblins roamed the night, sensible men kept themselves and their families safe by the hearth. In those superstitious times, it was the custom for people wearing strange costumes and masks, known as guisers, to pass from house to house, protecting the occupants by dancing and singing or, alternatively, to represent goblins, ghosts and other spirits of darkness.
By the turn of the eighteenth century into the nineteenth, All Hallows’ Eve was becoming a time for jollification for children and over the years, the superstitions surrounding this magical night evolved into lanterns, costumes and games. The now synonymous pumpkin lantern has its origins in a time when offerings of food were made to the spirits of the dead and the American custom of ‘Trick or Treat’ is the masquerade descendant of the guisers’ parade. It survives in other parts of the world, too, as a children’s festival.
A girl might place hazel nuts on a hot grate and giving each the name of a potential husband, recite, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” In a variant, any cracked nuts indicated those suitors who were fickle.
Other games also have their origins in Hallowe’en rituals. Throwing the complete peel of an apple over a shoulder revealed the initial of a girl’s true love. In Scandinavia, she set her shoes in the form of a ‘T’ on Hallowe’en and recited the words, “Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a ‘T’,” to ensure she dreamed of her future love. (The ‘T’ was a strong talisman representing the hammer of Thor, the god of thunder, agriculture and the home). It was also on All Hallows’ Eve when a girl hoped to see in her mirror a candlelight reflection of her future husband.
A more sombre ritual was that of building a bonfire on a burial mound, since these were thought to be portals to the spirit world. Once it was blazing, the locals held hands and danced around it. Young boys vied to grab burning branches and run across the fields, waving them like torches. Then, when the flames had died down, the lads had a jumping contest over the glowing embers, all the children bobbed for apples and the adults danced until bedtime.
So, on a night of magic when the spirits of the dead awaken and supernatural beings dance to a pagan drum, if you prefer your vampires to be romantic rather than terrifying creatures of darkness, perhaps you would rather curl up with a glass of wine (red, of course) and read the tales of some honourable, eternal, gentlemen.
Vampires Don’t Drink Coffee and Other Stories
Out of the night steps a figure; mysterious and dangerous, sensual and otherworldly. An individual destined to spend eternity alone, forced to hide in the shadows, preying on the innocent to survive and yet nursing a deep need for love. Is this lost and troubled soul predator or protector? Callie is mugged when walking home with her daughter and rescued by a man who is the image of her dead husband. Melissa inherits a house with a vampire living in the basement. Sabrina, a healer at the time of the Civil War, is drained of blood and left for dead by an evil vampire, then saved by his twin. Condemned to death in the seventeenth century for being possessed by a demonic presence, Katalin shocks vicar Christopher when she turns up at his church claiming he is the reincarnation of her long-lost love… With both contemporary and historical settings, this tantalizing collection of stories is a romantic feast, full of humour, passion and love.
A collection of fourteen tales bringing together irresistible heroes and memorable heroines who battle against demons, muggers, lost loves, loneliness and unholy thirst to find their true loves.
© Heather King