Halloween is a festival, which has become famous among children as a global tradition due to an abundance of candies, fun-filled activities and feasts.

The fascinating history: The progenitors of Halloween would perhaps never have expected that their sombre ritual to ward off ghosts would turn into a cheery party for children and adults alike. Admittedly, though smiling faces carved on pumpkins may not at first glance seem jolly, the general public embraces Halloween for the mirth it generates.

It is generally accepted that Halloween stems from the festival Samhain of the Celts, an ethnic group of Europe.

The Celts believed in all sorts of occult and spiritual phenomena, and their intention behind conducting Samhain might come across as slightly ridiculous: they did it to protect themselves, since the worlds of the living and the dead supposedly became blurred and ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. It doesn’t just stop there. While celebrating, the Celts donned costumes and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

It is rather fascinating that a festival that would today be considered absolutely crazy by most led to the creation of an event that has almost become a global tradition. Halloween is celebrated somewhat differently in different parts of the world, but “trick-or-treating” is by and large the most popular activity. After all, which kid doesn’t enjoy candy?

(Kiron Deb, Coordinator, Class XI, Calcutta International School)

The godfather of Halloween: Precursors of Halloween have, since ages, mesmerised scholars and classical historians. Samhain is one such festival, which is widely regarded to be the “godfather” of Halloween. Celebrated in Ireland, it marks the beginning of the winter months of the year. Celebrated on this day after sunset, the festival owes its origins to Celtic Pagan beliefs.

In the middle ages, the festival was written about by Christian scholars, who might have added a touch of Christianity to it. According to popular myth, the Irish mythological hero Fionn fought Alienn, a demon who burnt down Tara each year on Samhain. Samhain is a festival of grief for the deceased martyrs and the spurned. It is believed that the festivities make it easier for them to be transported from this world to the celestial world.

There are myths of offerings made by people on this day to their deceased loved ones. Accounts of such offerings are found in the Coligny Calendar as well. The era that came before Samhain was an era of trade and warfare. After the Samhain was over, the Irish engaged in peaceful activities, afraid of the consequences of negative forces. The festival was one of the first to use fire, in the form of a bonfire, which is prevalent even today. “Snap-Apple Night” (1833), painted by Daniel Maclise, shows people playing divination games on 31 October in Ireland.

Divination games are an important part of the festivity of the people of the age. Children enjoy this festivity to their heart’s fulfilment. Chasing crows, games and conducting bonfires are important events for them. Most of these accounts are hypothetical suppositions of scholars of architecture, art and culture, and little is found in writing from Irish classics. Irish lanterns, like the ones of Sean Nagelai, are great examples of ancient relics and antiquities of the modern day Halloween pumpkins. At present, Celtic people celebrate Samhain as the Celtic New Year. This is a time for deeply communicating with spirits and loved ones.

(Souhardya De, Coordinator, Class X, Vidyasagar Shishu Niketan, Midnapore)

Fun activities galore: The world is gearing up for the All Hallows’ Eve, on the eve of the Western Christian feast on 31 October. It begins the three-day observance of “Allhallowtide”, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. Hence, it is akin to the Hindu ritual of Pitri Paksha, where homage is paid to ancestors through puja, food and offerings.

The customary celebration of Halloween for children is “trick-or-treating”. Children dress up in costumes and go from door to door, asking for treats such as candy, asking the question: “Trick or treat?” The word “trick” implies a threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In Scotland and Ireland, children go from door to door in disguise, and receive a gift in the form of coins, apples, nuts or chocolate.

Besides this, Halloween activities also involve attending Halloween costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into “jack-o’-lanterns”, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing and divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films. Like most other festivals, Halloween is also incomplete without delicious food.

On All Hallows’ Eve, many Western Christian denominations encourage abstinence from meat, giving rise to a variety of vegetarian food associated with this day. Some food items associated with Halloween are apple candies, barm-brack, bonfire toffee, Halloween cake, roasted sweet corn, roasted pumpkin seeds, and soul cakes among others.

(Anmol Bhagat, Coordinator, Class XI, Father LeBlond School)

Halloween, Haunted places in Kolkata, Alipore Zoological Park, Writers Building, Rabindra Sarobar Metro Station, Park Street cemetery, Nagerbazar flyover
Photo: SNS

Haunted places in Kolkata: Halloween is here, and people have geared up for an eerie week. Thus, talk of ghosts is in the air. There are many beliefs about ghosts: some says that they are the spirits of people whose wishes are yet to be fulfilled. A change in the surroundings, atmosphere and temperature can be felt in the presence of ghosts. Kolkata is the cultural capital of the country. It is historical and very beautiful. But, every book has a dark chapter. As we look deep into it, we can discover the haunted secrets of the city. Kolkata is a place consisting of ancient buildings and some of them are the residing places of ghosts and spirits. From Writers Building to Victoria Memorial, from Mullick Ghat to metro stations, the city has several paranormal secrets and haunted places:

  • National Library: It is one of the best architectural buildings from the time of the British. It was the residence of the Governor General in India. The library, which is close to the Alipore Zoological Park, is famous for its historical significance as well as for its vast collection of books. Besides being a significant historical site, it has some paranormal secrets. People say that after the death of Lady Metcalfe, the Governor General’s wife, her spirit roams around the halls of the library. There are claims of people feeling the presence of someone breathing down their neck, especially when they have not kept the book back in the place where they took it from. People hear screams and sounds of shuffling of books. There is another story of a student who had disappeared in the library. The activities are likely to have increased with the discovery of a secret chamber in the library premises.
  • Writers Building: This 242-year old building is the secretariat building of the state of West Bengal. The building shares a rich history of pre-Independence days. Colonel NS Simpson was murdered in Writers Building on 8 December. The building is considered to be one of the most haunted places of Kolkata. There are claims of people hearing footsteps, gunshots and sounds of people screaming. One of the most frequent claims is that while working, people often see a fair man, apparently assumed to be Simpson, roaming around the hallways. History played an active role in the occurrence of such eerie incidents.
  • Rabindra Sarobar Metro Station: Constructed in 1988, Rabindra Sarobar is one of the busiest metro stations in Kolkata. Also known as the “paradise of suicide”, some of the most haunted activities have been reported here. There are many claims of people experiencing strange phenomena. They see peculiar shadows on the platform or hints of movement on the tracks. Mostly all these occurrences are experienced during the late hours of the night. After the last train departs, a few people claim to see an apparition of a lady following the train. Screams and spooky noises are also heard.
  • Park Street cemetery: This is another place where you can find the presence of paranormal entities. Built in 1767, it is the oldest cemetery of Kolkata. There are claims of people hearing eerie cries and the sound of mumbling. They also claim to have seen greyish apparitions near some of the graves.
  • Nagerbazar flyover: In 2012, the flyover was opened from Amarpally to Nagerbazar to curtail heavy traffic on Jessore Road. Nagerbazar Flyover is an accident-prone area. Many accidents have taken place on the flyover. In recent years, some abnormal activities have started to grow on and around the flyover. Some bikers claim to have been slapped by someone and to have heard angry cries. A few people also say that they are the spirits of the people who died due to accidents on the flyover. Some people say that during Halloween, the wall separating the mortal and the immortal world becomes thin, thus making it easier for visitors from the other world to visit the world of the mortals on this day. (Anushka Jana, Coordinator, Class XI, St Joseph & Mary’s School)