I still remember the sheer amazement with which I looked at an e-invite that I received from my cousin a couple of years ago. An animated invitation with carved pumpkins etched at the corner of the poster, a blurred image of a frail witch made its way in the centre and the invitation said “You’re invited to our Halloween party. Dress your best and trick or treat with us!”
That’s when I realised, this is getting too real.
India has the largest constitution in the world with billions of people celebrating their own festivals, traditions, and rituals that we may not be in a position to comprehend or even know about.
In the midst of this, you hear giggling children in the apartment corridor wandering and knocking on one door to another donned in costumes asking for candies- I wondered and even asked the little kids, “Can you spell Halloween?”
Celebrated on October 31st worldwide, Halloween is the second most awaited festival in the West after Christmas. Halloween gradually made its presence felt in the other parts of the world because of the popularity of spooky or comical costumes and the other festive elements of this holiday.
But the origin of halloween dates back to the celtic festival of Samhain which is nothing but a harvest festival dated about 2000 years ago in Ireland. The celts celebrated their new new year on November 1st which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter which was associated with deaths due to harsh winters. On the night of October 31st, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
Eventually after the influence of Christianity, the pope decided to merge this pagan festival with the existing All Souls Day and All Saints Day in honour of Christian martyrs. It is believed that back in the day, the Catholic Church wanted to give the Celtic festival a church sanctioned name and hence it was named All-Hallows, All Hallowmas, All Hallows eve, All Saints Eve as it was just before All Saints Day. It was finally called Halloween to the world.
A Sense of Escapism
Did you know that the popular carved pumpkins placed outside every home in America is called Jack O Lantern which is named after a stingy Irish man called Stingy Jack? Trick or Treat by little kids now was once considered a threat and gave rise to extreme vandalism during the era of the Great Depression.
As Halloween started trending in India, for Indians this western holiday has beguiled them as they find an escape from the dreary rituals of worshipping gods and maintaining abstinence. For once, people here can don costumes of their favourite superheroes or movie characters and no one will think they’re crazy to look like a person who has an agenda to save the world. From having house parties to corporates having Halloween-themed Fridays at work, Halloween has made its print in India and people seem to love it.
Young parents especially don’t shy away from making this a day of pure celebration for themselves, their children and peers.
One baker said that she never imagined making Halloween treats in bulk in India and believes this trend has made its way only 5-6 years back. Thanks to the same young parents and working class adults who have helped the trend sustain for chefs as they can step out of their comfort zone and get creative with their designs however gory it may seem.
But does every Indian living in India resonate with this?
No Country for the Dead
The Catholic community all over the world pays their respects to their demised loved ones on November 2nd every year by lighting candles and praying in church. My understanding of it persuaded me to find answers with a 67-year old Ronald D’silva from Mangalore.
“All Souls Day has no association with Halloween. The former is a day of remembrance and obligation while the latter means pure fun with a different history,” he expressed. He believes that Halloween cannot be taken seriously in India as it finds no ground with Indian history. “I have attended a few Halloween parties in India and it seemed fun. It was new to me and the only difference I noticed in this party was people weren’t wearing regular clothes but were dressed differently.”
If truth be told, Halloween is like a sundae in India but only for the privileged. For the rest of us who are unsettled about October 31st, call a few friends home and get comfortable watching horror films all night. That’s the best we can do.