Tip toe quietly through the night, creeping cautiously, taking fright, ghostly ghouls and pumpkin lights, its Halloween time again tonight…
When is Halloween in New Zealand?
Halloween is celebrated in New Zealand on October 31.
Halloween is a great time for children to dress up in costumes and go door knocking around the neighbours in your community collecting sweets.
Halloween is celebrated in much of the Western world, in particular the United States and Ireland, but it has gained popularity in New Zealand over the last few years.
Find out everything you need to know about Halloween. How did the tradition start, who else celebrates it, how to stay safe during Halloween, as well as lots of cool Halloween party food and crafts to do.
What is Halloween and Where Did it Come From
The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe’en, is shortened from “All-Hallow-Even”, as it is the evening before “All Hallows Day”. In Ireland the name was “All-Hallows Eve”. Halloween was also sometimes called “All Saints’ Eve”.
The Celts lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, and celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Thank goodness things are different today!
Celts believed that on October 31 when they celebrated Samhain, the night before their new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – briefly opening the way for the ghosts of the dead to return to earth.
Thus the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. Great!
Naturally, the still-living Celts did not want to be possessed! So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily parade around the neighbourhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.
Did it work? Perhaps. Although this unusual tradition is still celebrated today it is definitely not taken so seriously.
Other Cultures that Celebrate Halloween
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots and has spread right around the world.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The first was Feralia, a day in late-October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs.
Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 “All Souls’ Day”, a day to honour the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas and, eventually, Halloween.
In Mexico, and other parts of South America, a related festival is known as The Day of the Dead, or ‘Día de los Muertos‘. It’s celebrated on November 1 and 2, though other days, such as October 31 or November 6, are sometimes also celebrated. Although the festival is associated with the Christian Hallowmas observances of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, The Day of the Dead is more of a joyful celebration rather than one of mourning.
There we have it, a centuries old tradition celebrated today although the emphasis is now on having some fun and receiving treats rather than avoiding being possessed by the dead! Thank goodness for that.
What about Halloween as we know it today?
Halloween celebrations have changed to become more ritualised – more about having fun rather than reliving an age-old superstition. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches became more ceremonial.
The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine.
The modern tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.
The giving of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given food and money.
How do we celebrate Halloween in New Zealand?
Halloween is not quite as popular in New Zealand as in other Western countries, and in the past wasn’t generally even celebrated here.
However, Halloween is gaining in popularity in New Zealand with many retail outlets actively promoting Halloween costume sales in recent years. As a result more and more children are participating in “trick or treating” each year. Once they’ve got the costume, they’ve got to do something with it. So watch out for a knock at your door and perhaps be prepared with a few lollies!
One of the best things about Halloween in New Zealand is the community spirit it creates. It’s really important to get to know your neighbours, and form a strong bond as a community or village. Halloween is a great, safe way for people to get out and explore their community, and meet some neighbours you wouldn’t ordinarily bump into.
And because it takes a village to raise your child. We think this is one of the best things about Halloween!
In New Zealand it’s becoming traditional to put out a Halloween ‘sign’ out, to signal it’s OK for kids to knock at your door. There are purpose made signs for this, or it might be a spooky spider on your letterbox, or your fence covered in cobwebs. If your house is advertising Halloween, then kids know it’s OK to come knocking, and that you’ll have some treats for them when they do.
Equally, by not putting up a sign, this tells kids to move on to the next house. There’s also purpose made ‘don’t knock’ Halloween signs now. This is a really great way to keep all the neighbours onside in your community, so consider this tradition if it hasn’t already started.
The other thing that’s becoming more popular each year is for houses to go all out, and turn their front yards into ghoulish scenes. Everything from hands coming up through the lawn, to giant spiders hanging from trees, to all out LED lit graveyard disco scenes! This is all in the name of fun, kids love it, and it makes for a really vibrant community for one night a year!
If you are interested in celebrating Halloween in the more traditional and popular American style, check out some of the links below for some scary ideas your kids will enjoy.
Cool things to do for Halloween
Halloween is the time that traditionally we plant pumpkins in New Zealand, rather than harvest them, so here’s How to grow a giant pumpkin!
You’ll also want to check out our Halloween-inspired toilet roll crafts in Fun and easy craft ideas using toilet rolls.
Keeping safe this Halloween
In most western countries Halloween is not complete without costumes, pumpkins, monsters, vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts, scary tales, haunted houses – a lot of this is becoming popular in New Zealand, with more Halloween parties starting to appear each year.
Halloween can be a fun time for the kids but do take care. If your children are heading out on October 31 for a little trick or treating, be sure to join them, keeping an eye on them to ensure they’re safe.
By the way, you might also want to keep an eye out for ghosts and spirits of the dead sneaking around the darkening streets. Beware… you’ve been warned (just kidding)!