Barga Vecchia this afternoon was a bustling place as preparations were well underway for tomorrows Halloween festival. It is a relatively new phenomenon here in Italy and people have not yet really quite worked out just what is supposed to happen. They know that there is a good deal of dressing up to be done with masks and stuff and so what actually appears on the night is a slightly “horrored” up version of carnival but in October and not February.
The original Halloween was for adults and was a pretty scary event all things considered. It was taken across the Atlantic to the the States by waves of immigrants where over the years it was transformed into a more commercially minded, child orientated kind of party and from there it was re-exported back to Europe in its mutated form.
Still, watching a group of smiling Lake Angels carrying a coffin through the narrow streets of Barga Vecchia in bright Autumn sunshine did make one or two visitors to Barga stop in their tracks and pull out their cameras to record the event.
There were more cameras snapping in Piazza Angelio as well as a collection of umbrellas painted specially on the theme of Halloween by Keane were set out ready for a short video using some pretty sophisticated hardware – a Parrot Wi-Fi controlled flying quadricopter with two webcams on board which hovered above the umbrellas on the steps leading down to the piazza.
Now, all eyes are on the weather forecast for tomorrow (which for the moment looks pretty good) as nobody wants a repeat of last years Halloween which was rained out at the last moment.
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)”. The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”.A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced Kálan Gái av).
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”, and is sometimes regarded as the “Celtic New Year”.
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual. – source
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