Halloween is celebrated in many countries on October 31st, the eve of the Christian feast of All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. The word “Halloween” or “Hallowe’en” is from the Scottish term “All Hallows’ Eve” which means “evening of the Saints” and dates back to the year 1745. All Hallows’ is a Christian celebration on November 1st to honor the saints. The Christian belief at the time was that during Halloween, the frontier between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes blurred, and this is the time where “the veil separating the material world and the afterlife is at its most transparent”.
The decorations and the symbols used to celebrate Halloween in the US all have their meanings. The Jack-o’-lantern (the curved pumpkin with lights inside), for example, is traditionally carried by the disguised kids who go from door to door to “trick-or-treat”. It is believed to represent the “soul who has been denied entry into both heaven and hell” and is intended to frighten evil spirits.
The skull, in the Christian tradition, refers to Golgotha, and reminds of death and the transitory aspect of human life. Just like green and red are for Christmas, black and orange are the colors associated with Halloween. Orange represents autumn and fire, black is the symbol of darkness and evil.
There are 24 countries that officially celebrate Halloween in the world, but Madagascar is not among them.
One of the reasons why Halloween is not a Malagasy thing is not about the concept but the way it is celebrated, at the least the way it is celebrated in America. As a majority Christian country, Madagascar celebrates the All Saints Day (November 1st) and the Day of the Dead (November 2nd), and in their traditions, the Malagasy also hold the belief that there is a connection between the living and the dead, the continuation of life after death, and the existence of evil spirits. These are similar to the foundation of Halloween. However, the way it is celebrated in America does not go along with the Malagasy culture and beliefs. Americans believe that by wearing scary and macabre costumes, they are making fun of Satan and are no longer afraid of the evils which they feared before Jesus Christ saved them.
There is also the belief that, on Halloween, ghosts are wandering on earth, so to avoid being recognized by these ghosts when they walk outside in the night, they wear the scary and evil masks in hopes that the ghosts would see them as just their fellow spirits. For the Malagasy, when you want to chase evil spirits, brightness is the solution. You turn on the light, you light a candle, or you start a fire, just as they do the eve and the evening of the Independence day, bringing the ‘harendrina” (lantern) in the streets and around their houses. To keep ghosts away from their homes, people place food at their front doors to appease the ghosts and prevent them from entering. Americans also decorate their houses and front yards with skulls, skeletons, witches and some would even make their whole front yards look like a cemetery or a place that comes straight out of a horror movie. In the Malagasy culture, those who play with skulls and skeletons are evil, and tombs and cemeteries are the playgrounds of the “mpamosavy” (sorcerers). They believe that playing with evil or even with the symbols of evil may badly affect their spirit.
Another reason that could explain why Malagasy do not celebrate Halloween is the fact that all Christians festivities observed in Madagascar were introduced by the British and French before and during the colonization. And since French themselves do not officially celebrate Halloween, then they never introduced it in Madagascar.
One may wonder why the Malagasy do not want to deal with the symbols of death though they manipulate and carry dead bodies from the tombs when they do their “famadihana”. We do not have the answer to that question yet. Do you?