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Halloween traditions in Richmond have deep roots

Not just a sugar rush, Halloween is rooted in cultural tradition and has a long history in Canada.

The name “Halloween” (or “Hallowe’en”) comes from the Christian tradition of All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, which focuses on the dead and honours saints each Nov. 1.

Although its name comes from related Christian holidays, Halloween traditions as we know them are largely secular, deriving from the Celtic holiday Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”).

Ancient Celts celebrated the turning of the season from harvest to winter and from light to dark. This was also linked to the spiritual world: the connection between the living and the dead was at its peak, and the dead were believed to be able to cross over to the world of the living.

Costumes were intended to disguise people from lurking spirits and ghosts. They later contributed to the practice of trick or treating, a combination of several Middle Ages traditions.

“Mumming,” or performing in disguise, was combined with “souling,” begging door-to-door for cakes called “soul cakes” which commemorated the dead. A third practice was known as “guising,” effectively dressing up as we do today.

“Trick or treat” initially saw children exchanging a song or other “trick” for a treat. The first recorded use of the phrase “trick or treat” was in an Alberta newspaper in 1927.

Dressing in disguise in North America was first recorded in Vancouver in 1898.

About 100 years ago, Halloween solidified its place as a family and community holiday. At the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston, tradition lived on at their The Haunted Sea event this past weekend.

While normally warm and welcoming in the winter months, they pulled out all the spooky stops at Halloween for this event. 

Behind the regular exhibits about the history of fishing and canning, Halloween tours took place throughout the weekend. These alternated between a tame tour aimed at younger children and a spookier tour for those who like surprises. Costumes were encouraged.

Andrea Park, the site’s head interpreter, said the best costume she had ever seen at this event was a family of Jawas from Star Wars. When asked what she loves best about Halloween, Andrea said: “My children’s candy.”

The cannery’s visitor services co-ordinator, Tara Miller, said the best costume she’d seen at the cannery was a very realistic Groot from Marvel Comics.

Shannon King, who manages audience engagement, praised the Blanche Macdonald students who did make-up for the event, “from gorgeous mermaids and scary sea monsters to dead cannery workers. Super spooky and beautiful!”

Asked about costumes in years past at the cannery, King said, “I have so many favourites – a very young boy in a hot dog suit who insisted on letting me know he wasn't a real hot dog.”

Mimi Horita, the cannery’s marketing and visitor services manager says “The Haunted Sea transformed the cannery’s herring reduction plant into an undersea cove, inhabited by sea creatures and sirens. This space was decorated entirely with salvaged materials, saving waste from entering our landfills and oceans.”

While the decorations and incredible makeup were spooky, the amount of plastic and Styrofoam retrieved from the ocean was a scarier sight.

Julia Sargeant, the cannery’s events co-ordinator, says The Haunted Sea was designed to “bring awareness to the horrors of waste on our environment, especially oceans, through a memorable interactive haunted experience.”

In addition to the decorated areas and spooky characters, children enjoyed activities such as a spooky story time presented by the Richmond Public Library and under-the-sea themed crafts and games throughout the weekend.

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