Austria: Autumn

With the equinox at the start of autumn, the nights start getting longer, the leaves begin to change colour, it starts to get colder and the days are darker. From time immemorial, this has been a season associated with lots of customs. The summer has produced a good harvest, the cattle is now brought down from the alpine pastures and the farmer's main work is done. As thanksgiving for the rich harvest, man has developed a wide variety of festivities, many of which are the last surviving remnants of ancient heathen customs. One of the traditions that has crossed the Atlantic to Europe from the USA is one that, unknown to most of us, actually originated in the Celtic age in Europe, Halloween. This was a tradition that was mainly known in the British Isles, in Ireland and later in northern France.

According to the Celtic-Druidical tradition, the year ended on October 31. The night before the new year on November 1 was known as the "Samhain", when the frontiers between life and death opened up, and it was feared that ghosts could gain power over the body. The druids tried to protect the living from the dead by going from house to house, bringing roots decorated with grimacing faces to ward off evil spirits, that they would exchange in return for offerings. In Ireland, it became a tradition to extinguish the house fire, dress up in frightening costumes and to take to the streets, making as much noise as possible.

Even Christianisation was no reason for abandoning this tradition, and so it was simply turned into a religious holiday. In 837, Pope Gregory IV dedicated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to all the saints, and set the feast day of "All Saints" on November 1. The name Halloween derives from the day before All Saints (All hallows eve). Halloween probably crossed to America with the Irish migrants around 1840, and it was no doubt in America too that the modest root was transformed into the larger pumpkin. "Trick or treat", in which children go from house to house begging sweets dates from the 9th century, when young Christians would wander from door to door begging for "soul bread", square loaves containing blackcurrants, in return for which they would pray for the benefactor and the dead. If they were not given bread (the treat), they would curse the house (the trick). The custom returned to Europe at the end of the 20th century, and is becoming increasingly popular throughout the continent, to the delight of all its children.

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