Haunted Holidays

The Halloween Inn brings you a calendar of Haunted Holidays from the European past and present, where the dead are honored and where ghosts, evil spirits and fairies reign over the earth.

Parentalia, haunted holiday
Athenodorus and the Ghost by Henry Justice Ford



13th - 21st February

Parentalia was the nine day Roman festival where the ancestors and spirits of the dead (Manes) were honored. The first part of the festival was mainly done in private, with families leaving offerings such as flowers and bread at the family tombs. It culminated in the public portion of the festival, Feralia. According to Ovid when the Romans once neglected to honor Feralia the spirits rose from their graves and flew through the streets howling in anger.

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht)

 30th April

Walpurgis Night, tradition
Walpurgis Night, 17th Century engraving by Michael Herr

The eve of St. Walpurga's Day was originally the beginning of the Celtic festival of Beltane. Germans believed that this was the evening that witches held their annual gathering on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz mountains of Germany. Witches flying to this meeting were believed to bite a piece out of every church bell they passed. Farmers would put up crosses and bunches of herbs over stables to protect livestock and fires were burned to scare the witches away.


9th, 11th & 13th May

Lemuria or Lemuralia was a Roman festival where exorcism rites were performed to scare away malign spirits and placate the souls of those who were not buried properly. It occurred on three non-successive days, usually on May 9th, 11th, and 13th. Ovid described in detail the rites of Lemuria. The head of the family arose at midnight, washed his hands and then walked through the house in his bare feet whilst making "the sign of the fig" with his hands. He then spit out black beans from his mouth and recited "With these beans, I redeem me and mine" nine times without looking behind him. The ghosts would then come behind him and pick up the beans, possibly as a substitute for carrying off a member of the family. He then would wash again, clash together bronze vessels and repeat nine times "Ghosts of my fathers, be gone". He could then look back.


May or June (50 days after Easter)

Romanians celebrate Rusalii on Whitsunday, the Christian festival of Pentecost, celebrating when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles after Easter. In Romania these festivities can last to up to a week and are combined with other elements of Romanian folklore. In particular they are linked with the Rusaliile, fairy-like creatures that can cause havoc at this time of year if they are not properly respected. On the day before Rusalii villagers would put wormwood or branches of linden trees on their roofs and on their doors for protection. The only way to be healed from the Rusaliile was through a ritual dance performed by a secret group of male dancers known as the Calusarii, who would travel from village to village.

All Saints Day & All Souls Day

1st & 2nd November

All Saints Day is also known as All Hallows Day or Hallowmas and the name "Halloween" is derivative of All Hallows Eve, or the night before All Hallows. All Saints' Day was originally May 13th, but was moved to November by Pope Gregory in the 8th century and is the day set aside to honor all saints who do not have their own feast day. The companion holiday, All Souls' Day is in commemoration of all those who have died. In medieval Europe beggars would ask for money as payment for prayers that they promised to say for the dead, to help release them from purgatory. In England soul caking became the custom in which cakes were exchanged for prayers.

Engraving of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, 1605
Engraving of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, 1605

Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night

5th November

In 1605 Guy Fawkes and other members of the so-called Gunpowder plot conspired to blow up the English Houses of Parliament. Fawkes was caught before the act could be carried out and was later executed; hung, drawn and quartered. November 5th, the day of his arrest, was declared a day of public thanksgiving and large bonfires were lit throughout the country. Since All Hallows' Eve was considered "popery" in Protestant England its celebration was discouraged and therefore Guy Fawkes Day absorbed many of the characteristics associated with Halloween. Straw effigies were dressed up like Fawkes and then burned on bonfires. Popular ballads were also written for the occasion, the most well known starting with:

"Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Shall ever be forgot."

Up until the last century children would dress up as Fawkes and would beg money from strangers to buy fireworks. 'A penny for the Guy' was their refrain. Today large firework demonstrations are used to commemorate the event.

Krampus Card

Krampus Night (Krampusnacht)

5th December

Krampus is the dark counterpart of the gift-bearing Santa Claus. In many European traditions the feast day of St Nicholas was celebrated on the 6th December. Legend had it that on his feast day St Nicholas would reward good children by leaving them gifts in their shoes. Naughty children on the other hand were visited by Krampus, a horned demon-like creature who would give children lumps of coal or if they were really naughty, would swat them with birch branches and rusty chains and then put them in his sack and carry them off to Hell. Traditionally on Krampus Night (the eve of St Nicholas' day) people would dress up as Krampus, light torches and run down the streets rattling chains and frightening people, they would also exchange holiday greetings cards called Krampuskarten. In the nineteenth century, when European Christmas traditions were brought over to America and Germanic traditions were introduced into Britain, St Nicholas became Santa Claus and was associated with both the winter solstice (21st December) and Christmas day. This was particularly fitting as in the Orthodox Church St Nicholas' day is celebrated on the 19th December, however there is no denying the pre-Christian influence on both Santa Claus and Krampus. Krampus in particular resembles the pagan Horned God and, as seen in some of the Krampuskarten, he is also associated with adult naughtiness and sexuality.


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