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October 2023 - Samhain

October has returned, bringing with it the season when it's time to start layering up where leaves display their fiery hues and fall from the trees, the time of the year when farmers prepare for their harvest – and possibly the time for you to enjoy a warm, cosy pumpkin (or maple, if you prefer) spiced drink of your choosing.

In case you missed what we discussed previously, we wanted to clarify one of the most common misconceptions about dyslexia for Dyslexia Week. This year's theme is "Uniquely You", represented by a fingerprint to highlight the unique hurdles faced by those with Dyslexia and also to appreciate those who have problems with reading, writing and spelling.

As a reminder, Dyslexia is a spectrum; individuals may exhibit a wide range of abilities and challenges, and it is not to be feared.

For a change of pace, this month, we will be dimming the spotlight (for added suspense) and getting into the festive mood by discussing something slightly different: the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain that takes place on October 31st and how it has evolved to take the shape of Halloween (coincidentally, not about the horror franchise with the same name).


Other Overshadowed Celebrations

Before we begin, we would like to bring attention to a few of the lesser-known festivals and celebrations that take place across the world, including:

The 9 nights of Navarati & Durga Puja (October 15th – October 24th)

  • Dedicated to celebrating the Hindu Goddess Durga, people pray, fast, and participate in festivities (such as Garba, Dandiya dances, and Mahalaya to pay homage to ancestors).

  • The tenth day, called Vijayadashami, marks the victory of good over evil. In West Bengal and the east of India, Durga Paja celebrates Durga's return to the heavens after slaying the demon Mahishasura.

The 200-year-old beer festival in Germany, Oktoberfest (September 16th – October 3rd)

The Jewish tradition of Sukkot (September 29th – October 6th)


The Start Of Samhain: Pagan / Roman Roots

Essentially, the earliest form of Halloween, Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced 'sow-win'), was one of four major Celtic Pagan festivals marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter in the Celtic calendar. During Samhain, it was believed that the boundaries between the physical world and the spirit world were thin, allowing spirits, fairies, and other supernatural beings to cross into the realm of the living. To prepare, offerings were left outside villages, and people wore costumes resembling animals and monsters to blend in and avoid being kidnapped. Druid priests also held ritual bonfires to deter monsters away from towns.

Along with the ancient tradition of ritualistic bonfires, some historians believe that there was a Celtic Pagan cult that carved heads out of stone and other materials, believing that the head was the vessel of the soul.

Inspired by this, an ancient Irish folklore tale circulated in the 18th century about an individual known as Stingy Jack, a notorious trickster and drunkard who crossed paths with the Devil twice. The story concludes with Jack being rejected from Heaven and Hell, forcing him to wander the earth with smouldering embers in a carved-out turnip to light his way.

Subsequently, Jack earned the nickname 'Jack of the Lantern' due to his actions. Over time, this story evolved into the tradition of carving faces into gourds or pumpkins and placing a candle inside, known as a Jack-o'-Lantern, to ward off evil spirits, including Jack himself.

After the Roman conquest of Celtic lands, the Romans celebrated several festivals during the autumn season, including:

  • Feralia, which took place in late October, honouring the deceased in a similar theme to the Celtic tradition.

  • Pomona, which took place in early November to celebrate the goddess of the harvest with the same name

The Start Of Halloween: European Roots

Additionally, it's worth noting that this Irish folklore inspired Washington Irving's iconic 1820 short story, 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' where a man encounters the Headless Horseman on his way home from a party, leading to his mysterious disappearance and leaving the townsfolk to speculate whether he met a grim end or was scared off by an elaborate prank. This has been adapted into a 1999 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp.

In the 8th century, the Catholic Church established two Christian holidays in November with similar themes. These are:

  1. All Saints Day (also called All Hallows Day): Traditionally, the celebration includes attending a unique church service called a Mass, where the names and stories of recognised saints are read, and hymns are sung to honour the saints.

  2. All Souls Day: A day of prayer to the souls of the departed, where candles are lighted

Halloween underwent a fascinating transformation as it reached North America through European colonisation. The night before All Saints Day later became more commonly known by its other name and evolved yet again to form “Hallowe’en”; a harmonious blend of Celtic, Roman and Christian influences.

Here is a small list of all the countries in the UK that have contributed to the modern-day meaning of Halloween:

  • Ireland: Ireland is often considered the birthplace of Halloween. Many ancient Celtic traditions associated with Samhain, including the carving of Jack-o'-Lanterns from turnips, have Irish origins. The Irish brought many of these traditions to the United States during the 19th century and switched to pumpkins as they were plentiful.

  • Scotland: Scotland also has deep-rooted Halloween traditions. Dressing up in costumes and going door-to-door for treats is a Scottish custom that contributed to the development of modern trick-or-treating.

  • Wales: While Wales has its own distinct culture and traditions with their interpretation of Samhain (called Nos Calan Gaeaf), most Celtic traditions were adopted.

  • England: England has contributed to the Halloween tradition through the practice of "soul cakes" and the idea of going door-to-door for treats. The concept of All Hallows' Eve, the night before All Saints Day, was an essential part of English Christian traditions.

Safety & Inclusion during Halloween

There are no definitive ways to celebrate Halloween. Some enjoy heading outside for parties and Trick-or-Treating, and some like cowering behind cushions as they watch horror movies. Some people also do not agree with Halloween and ignore it completely. Regardless of whether you plan to celebrate, here are some tips on staying safe and inclusive for the occasion:

Costume Safety

  • Select costumes crafted from fire-resistant materials to contain situations where combustion occurs quickly or if fire spreads from candles or flames. This ensures that a fire will not get out of control and may even save lives if parts of the costume must be discarded.

  • Shorten long/draping costumes to prevent tripping. This will also assist in the event of a fire.

  • Use non-toxic face paint or makeup instead of masks, which can obstruct vision.

  • Avoid using cheap, low-quality cosmetic contact lenses to complete an outfit if you do not know they are safe or have never used contacts.

  • If you are familiar with using contacts, seek advice from an optician and opt for prescribed coloured lenses.

  • Use reflective tape, glowsticks or flashlights on costumes and bags to make children more visible in the dark.

Outside Safety

Fire Safety

Common Inclusivity & Etiquette


About TOTUM Apprentice (Formerly known as NUS Extra)

Even if ghost movies and slasher flicks are just frightening fiction, the reality most of us face currently is not. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite and squeeze the average apprentice, rather than being lost in the dark, we are lighting the way to some financial help in the form of the TOTUM cards.

TOTUM might be partnered with the National Union of Students, but do not let mentioning the word "students" trick you, as they offer a bountiful harvest unknown to most. If you are undertaking a UK-based apprenticeship, you can sign up and apply for a TOTUM Apprentice membership.

You only need a minimum of four things to apply: the course's name and duration, the course provider, a personal email address and a clear portrait photo of yourself.

From only £14.99 per year, or £24.99 for three years, This gives:

  • Over 500 discounts for over 350 national brands

  • Exclusive member offers, including 10% off each shop at Co-Op

  • Free 3-year membership of Tastecard (usable across restaurants, pizza delivery and even cinema tickets)

  • A physical copy of your membership card

  • The option to obtain an official PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme) accredited ID card at no extra cost

If you are applying and would like a PASS ID card, you will also require a passport or UK driving license that is either in date or expired within the last five years.


Discussion Points for Equality and Diversity

  • How does your community celebrate? Are any seasonal events hosted?

  • Can more be done to make Halloween inclusive to everyone?

  • Is it essential to reflect on the cultural history of a celebration to join in?

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