Halloween-Like Traditions and the Origin of Halloween

Halloween-Like Traditions and the Origin of Halloween

Celebrated on October 31st every year, Halloween is seen as a secular tradition today despite its pagan roots. The common point of Halloween celebrations, which has become widespread in countries such as Russia, Turkey and Japan with the effect of globalization, is the theme of fear.

Origin of Halloween

When evaluated in a historical context, the origin of Halloween is based on Samhain, which symbolizes the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

Samhain is one of the four important festivals in the Ancient Celtic religion. People used to believe that the veil between the dead and the living was thinned on the night of Samhain, which falls on October 31. They used to wear costumes to hide from evil spirits and offer them food like pumpkin and corn.

Studies show that children’s tradition of collecting candy originated in the 16th century. It is known that carved lanterns from turnips were used as scary faces in those years.1

Halloween-Like Traditions

With the end of the harvest period and the onset of winter, similar traditions can be observed in many civilizations.

Bocuk Night

Bocuk Night, an old Balkan tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, is usually celebrated on January 6th, which is considered the coldest day of winter.

In Bocuk Night, people paint their faces, make fires and cook pumpkin desserts to protect themselves from the witch-like evil woman called Bocuk. These traditions are often compared to Halloween.

Bocuk Night, Edirne, Turkey

In that creepy night celebrated in Tekirdağ and Edirne with the encouragement of local municipalities, people sometimes leave some of the pumpkin dessert in the barn so that Bocuk does not harm the animals. They also consider the freezing of the waters due to cold weather as a sign that the next harvest season will be fruitful.2

See Also: An Ethnographic Research On The Bocuk Night

Karakoncolos Night

We know about the Karakoncolos Night from the travel book of Evliya Çelebi, an Ottoman traveler who lived in the 17th century.

Evliya Çelebi wrote that on April 25, 1666, in a village in Bulgaria, supernatural entities were fighting in the sky. According to Evliya Çelebi, the lightning did not stop that night and organs fell from the sky as a result of the battle. The villagers told Evliya Çelebi that that day is Karakoncolos Night. According to the villagers, every year on that date, two supernatural groups fought in the sky.

The Kukeri Festivals held in the last days of winter in Bulgaria today show that creatures like Karakoncolos also exist in Bulgarian folklore. The purpose of these festivals is to drive away evil spirits with masks and the sound of bells.

The Rijeka Carnival in Croatia, the Kurentovanje Carnival in Slovenia, and the Busójárás Carnival in Hungary also include similar traditions.

Kukeri, Bulgaria

Karakoncolos belief can be found in the Balkans, Caucasus and Anatolia today.

See Also: The Scariest Creatures in Anatolian Folklore

Kalandar Night

The night that connects January 13 to January 14 is known as Kalandar Night in some villages in the Eastern Black Sea region. On Kalandar Night, young people paint their faces and play games, children go from door to door to read poems and collect food. Sometimes, young people dress as karakoncolos and ring bells.3

While some Kalandar traditions are similar to Halloween traditions, Kalandar Night is actually a New Year’s Eve celebration according to the Rumi Calendar.

Coraz Nights

In some villages of Izmir, the nights between January 18 and 20 are known as Coraz Nights. They believe that Coraz, depicted as a crone witch, harms little girls in the street during the Coraz Nights. For this reason, girls are not asked to go out alone on Coraz Nights and pumpkin dishes are cooked at home. However, this tradition is almost non-existent nowadays.4

As a result, traditions such as serving food to evil entities, collecting snacks or painting faces, wearing masks, and disguising are common points that are partially seen in both Halloween, Bocuk Night and Kalandar Night festivities. On the other hand, Coraz Night is similar to Bocuk Night in terms of cooking pumpkin.

In addition, the fact that some shamanic communities, especially Siberian Turks, light a fire and scatter some foods to nature in order to protect themselves from evil entities in the autumn period can be considered together with the aforementioned practices.

Walpurgis Night

The night that connects April 30 to May 1 is known as Walpurgis Night. It is believed that all the witches on earth come together in Walpurgis Night, which is also mentioned in Goethe’s Faust. For this reason, you may see some people dressed as witches among those who are having fun around the bonfire.5

In some villages in the Eastern Black Sea Region, the night that connects May 13 to May 14 (the night that connects April to May according to the Rumi calendar) is known as Witch Night. According to belief, that night is the witches’ fiercest night. It was believed that witches disguised as spiders or frogs would harm calves and crops. For this reason, village people used to take various precautions against witches.

It has been claimed that witches have small tails in some villages in the Eastern Black Sea region. It was also believed that the witches of Trabzon and Rize used to go to the chief witch in Crimea by riding big cauldrons or old brush brooms to learn new spells. For this reason, it is known that these witches were called Crimean crones.6 7

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead, thought to date back to the Aztec times, is usually celebrated on November 1 or 2 in Mexico. In this tradition, people commemorate their deceased relatives by painting their faces like skeletons. But face painting on the Day of the Dead is not meant to frighten, painted faces symbolize the deceased. The sole purpose of the festival is to commemorate the dead. Because real death happens when the deceased is forgotten.

  1. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas ROGERS, ISBN: 9780195168969[]
  2. Türk Kültüründe Bir Miras Olarak Bocuk Gecesi Ritüeli İçeriği: Fenomenolojik Bir Araştırma (Ritual Content of Bocuk Night As a Heritage In Turkish Culture: A Phenomenological Research), Özlem GÜZEL & Hande AKYURT KURNAZ, Millî Folklor, 2020[]
  3. Anadolu Ve Kafkasya Kavşağında Geleneksel Bir Yılbaşı Kutlaması: Kalandar (A Traditional New Year Celebration At The Anatolian-Caucasian Crossroad: Kalandar), Okan ALAY, Motif Akademi Halkbilimi Dergisi, Cilt: 11, Sayı: 23, 2018[]
  4. Tire Peşrefli’de Coraz Geceleri, Hasan DOĞAN & İbrahim FİDANOĞLU, Milliyet, 17 Ocak 2013[]
  5. They Do What?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Extraordinary and Exotic Customs from Around the World, Javier A. GALVÁN, ISBN: 9781610693424[]
  6. Yusufeli, Taner ARTVİNLİ, Yusufeli Kaymakamlığı Yayını, 2000[]
  7. Laz Sözlü Kültüründe Cazi İnancı, İrfan ALEKSİŞİ[]
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