Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween….in Costa Rica. A Happy Holiday? or Pagan Capitalist Celebration?

Well, it’s almost that time of year again, October 31st, when countries like the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France and many other countries around the world celebrate Halloween. A mostly unfamiliar tradition in Costa Rica, it’s hard to explain to another culture why we would want to teach our children to dress up in costumes, go to strangers houses demanding candy, and if they don’t give it to you you should play a trick on them. Isn’t that pretty much against everything we teach our children these days?

Nonetheless, if you grew up in my day (many moons ago, trust me) when it was much safer to walk the streets at night, when knocking on strangers doors didn’t get you kidnapped, raped or killed, when we weren’t so concerned with childhood obesity, etc, we used to count down the days until our favorite holiday arrived…….Halloween! Decked out in our costumes and carrying our largest pillow case to hold our loot, as soon as the sun set, we literally ran from house to house yelling “trick or treat” and filling that pillow case (bags weren’t big enough!) with as much candy as we could possibly collect over the next few hours. When we arrived home, we spent hours, even days, carefully sorting through our treasure trove and stuffing the sweet stuff in our mouths….our sugar high lasted for months!!

In Costa Rica, Halloween will usually be celebrated with small private parties or used as a marketing opportunity by Costa Rica Hotels, as well as local Restaurants and Bars looking to attract customers during their notoriously low tourism season. Most Costa Ricans know little of Halloween and those that do often consider the holiday a celebration of satanic beliefs and definitely find little logic in encouraging their kids to beg for candy from strangers.

What to expect on Halloween
Halloween is celebrated yearly on October 31. Its roots date back to the Celtic Harvest Festival of “Samhain”, and it is often related with the Christian celebrations of “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”, though today Halloween is considered more of a secular celebration with less religious connotations involved. Some of the more common Halloween activities include “Trick or Treating” dressed up
in costumes, attending costume parties (mostly adults), playing tricks on people, bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses (usually decked out for the occasion, not just naturally haunted houses), telling ghost stories and watching scary horror movies, as well as decorating your home or office with Halloween inspired decorations for the holiday (usually scary, bloody and gory stuff).

Happy Halloween or Pagan Holiday?
Halloween is believed to have originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, roughly meaning "summer's end" and considered part of the celebration of the Celtic New Year. The Celtic culture at the time was ruled by a government that consisted of pagan priests, called Druids. The Druids were considered to be Satanists who controlled the lives of their followers through fear and intimidation, developing a culture wrought in death, sickness, and widespread destruction. The ancient Celts believed that the line between this world and the “other side” became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both good and bad) to pass from one world to the other. Developing yearly rituals around this belief, family's deceased ancestors were to be honored during this time, while harmful spirits were to be warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off those harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks to scare the bad spirits away, as well as the carved and lit “pumpkins” that were placed in front of houses for this same purpose.
As the Druids made their way from house to house on the night of October 31st demanding strange foods to not only eat themselves, but to also offer later at the “festival of death” (or the house would receive a “trick”). They would carry with them a large turnip type tuber, carved hollow inside with a candle that lit the carved face found on the front of the tuber. This was meant to give the Druids more power, scare away other bad spirits, as well as it served as a lantern to light their way as they frightened villagers with their demands for “treats”. When this practice arrived to the United States in the mid 19th century, pumpkins were more readily available, not to mention easier to carve and they quickly became the recognized symbol of Halloween. “Jock” was the name the Druids had given the demonic spirit that inhabited the tuber/pumpkin warding off all other evil spirits, which in America soon took on the more common name of “Jack”, or as some folks refer to it to this day, “Jack ‘O Lantern”. The actual name of Halloween, morphed from the original Christian feast known as “All Hallowmas” which over the years came to be known as “All Hallows Eve”, then “All Hallowed Eve”, and finally known today as….. “Halloween”.
Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock in preparation for winter. Bonfires were a common part of the festivities, as there were many customs that went with the large fires. For example, all other village fires were doused and each family lit their home hearth from the communal bonfire, bonding the families of the village together until the next year. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames and generally there were two bonfires built side-by-side so the town folk and their livestock (the ones not slaughtered!) could walk between the fires serving as a cleansing ritual. Obviously the focus for ancient Halloween was not on how much candy a kid could collect in a few hours!

Is Halloween Celebrated in Costa Rica?
The more popular day of celebration that time of year in Costa Rica is November 2nd. Known as “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) throughout most Latin American countries, this day is more of a show of respect when family members visit cemeteries to leave flowers and other offerings for their deceased loved ones. This annual celebration is generally connected with the Catholic holidays of “All Saint’s Day” (November 1) and "All Souls Day" (November 2), though it is still felt by many to hold certain pagan connotations, so many Catholics and Christians prefer to commemorate the faithful departed by celebrating in the name of “All Souls Day”.

Most Costa Ricans wisely do not choose to celebrate Halloween at all due to its history of satanic beliefs and relation with bad spirits, as well as this holiday’s promotion of unnecessary consumerism wrapped around strange values of begging and threatening strangers. It does seem quite strange when you stop and think about it!

For those of you that still enjoy the dressing up, the practical jokes, the CANDY, there are still many opportunities for festivities. Check out the link below, or your nearest Expat community where there’s sure to be some bar full of costumed partiers, or just head to your nearest market and you can just buy a sack of candy and satisfy all those sugar urges in the safety of your home!

For Halloween Celebration Information within Costa Rica, click here!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Sources: (photo credit)

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