Halloween in the Dengie Hundred


Ancient Britons though that Samhain, Lord of the Dead, imprisoned the souls of wicked people in the bodies on animals and on the night of 31 October he allowed these souls their freedom for one night. During this night people were at risk from malignant ghostly creatures of all kind. To keep the spirits away villagers would burn huge bonfires, wear costumes and sacrifice animals to appease the spirits.

Little is recorded from this period but Ancient Britons were known to live in this part of Essex so it is very likely thousands of years ago people lay in their huts after dark, scared of demons roaming nearby.

As was the case in many pagan events the Christian Church found it difficult to break peoples old habits and simply replaced a pagan celebration with a Christian one.

In the 6th Century the Roman Catholic Church decided to introduce All Saints Day on 1 November when Christians prayed for the souls of dead saints.
These prayers were included in a mass was called  Alhallow Mass so the night before became Alhallowmas Eve which was shortened to Halloween.

Churches were encouraged to ring their bells overnight on Halloween for all human souls. Although a religious gesture This may well have pleased the villagers as another step to ward of Samhaim's creatures!

The effects of this overnight ringing were felt by churches as the accounts of Heybridge church show the charge of 8 pence by John Gidbey for a new bell rope for use at Hallowmas and later 1 shilling and 8 pence to Andrew Elliot for repairing the third bell during use at Hallowmas.

Even after the introduction of All Souls Day on 2 November to honor the souls of all dead people, Sadly for the Church  many people still enjoyed celebrating the old pagan festival as bonfires and dressing up in pagan costumes offered excitement into dull lives that simple prayer could not match.
Thus Eastern Essex would still have seen people celebrating Halloween in the old style by lighting bonfires, baking soul cakes and of course drinking.

In the 16th Century the Reformation reshaped the Church as a puritan element dominated thinking. The church now opposed the celebration of both the pagan Halloween and the Catholic All Hallows day.
In 1604 the unsuccessful attempt to blow up a protestant parliament and a protestant king gave the church a great excuse to establish a celebration on November 5th which involved the normal pagan activities of a bonfire, sacrifice of an effigy, dressing up and feasting.
This move proved very successful and within a short period few people in England celebrated the old Halloween although it was still celebrated in Celtic areas of Scotland and Ireland

We know that bonfires celebrations were very popular in eastern Essex although reports in newspapers from the mid 1800's associate the bonfires with 5 November rather than Halloween.

Halloween remained as folklore with scary stories although there was little personal celebration there are records of late autumn events in this area using a Halloween theme

In the USA Halloween celebrations were introduced by Irish immigrants and without the clash with bonfire night grew into a huge phenomenon with the adoption of Pumpkins, trick and treat, costumes, parties etc.

By the 1960's the increasing influence of American culture brought Halloween celebrations back to the UK and the celebrations grew and grew until they have reached the level that we know today as one the top events of the year.

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