The festival of Halloween has been celebrated for centuries in different guises. Its origins can be found in an ancient Celtic festival ‘Samhain’ that marked the end of the summer growing season and a time of harvest. Believing that the ghosts of the dead would return to walk amongst the living, people would dress up and light sacred village bonfires, taking the embers to light fires in their home, with the intent to ward off evil spirits.
And apple bobbing? Well, it appears the Romans may be responsible for that enduring tradition, with the Roman goddess of fruit trees, symbolised by an apple.
The Catholic Church then instigated All Saints Day or All Souls Day. Although a religious festival it still has a dark undertone as it is the day to pray for the departed and All Souls Night is supposed to see the return of dead loved ones.
Now Halloween is much more of a fun celebration with children going trick-or-treating, everyone dressing up and decorating their homes with pumpkins and cobwebs. Scary movies and costumes are a must. But we have to ask are these dark celebrations good for our mental health?
Life verses death
The one thing in life that we can be certain of is death. Many believe that death is just the next step in life and it is seen as a cause to celebrate passed loved ones.
Taking time to grieve and consider their passing is an important part of the grieving process. Recognising and accepting that grief takes time allows those who are grieving, the time and space to come to terms with events and understand how they are feeling and perhaps, why.
Considering death as part of life helps us process and accept this natural life phase and gives us the opportunity to reduce the sense of fear. In fact, Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos, held on and around October 31st, actually swaps mourning for joyful and colourful celebrations, with families coming together to remember their loved ones. This celebratory honouring, forming part of a traditional mourning and healing process.
Rituals keep us together.
As humans we seek belonging and connection and what’s more natural than a ritual, festival, or celebration to bring everyone together?
Some rituals can provide comfort during difficult times. Bringing people together also helps build a sense of community. If you think about it, trick-or-treating, is a great way to meet new neighbours and to reach out to the wider community.
Perhaps instead of looking at trick-or-treating as a commercialised practice, we could bring this up to date and look on it as a meet and greet opportunity. With a focus on support, and reducing isolation and loneliness, for all ages.
BOO! A little scare is good for you.
Nothing beats a good horror movie with lots of jumpy moments! In that instant of fear your body releases cortisol.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It increases sugar in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and helps the body repair. Cortisol also slows functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation.
A little scare, in controlled conditions such as a roller coaster, or a jump in a scary film has its benefits.
With stress a constant aspect of our day to day lives you get to play out the scary or fearful situation, from start to finish, unlike some stress and fear that can happen in life. It can be seen as an opportunity to experience a state of fear, with a beginning and end, bringing that sense of calm after the storm.
Cardiologist Dr Nidhi Kumar said: “When you are scared for a short period of time, your body releases endorphins. Your body releases dopamine. Your heart rate speeds up. Oxygen and blood flow to your muscles and you get pumped up and you actually feel energized,” Kumar said.
Short scares can have positive impacts, like strengthening the immune system. To find out more click here
Dressing up and taking a break from the real world is also good for you. Having some time to ‘play’ relieves stress, improves relationships and connections with others, boosts energy, improves brain function and social skills.
Perhaps it is time to rethink and revisit what Halloween can mean, looking at the lessons we can take from it, embracing the darker side of the tradition, to the fun of dressing up, connecting for good, alongside good old trick-or-treating.