The Irish celebration of Halloween (Hallow “E’en” for “evening”) comes from a religious feast — All Hallows Day, better known today as All Saints Day. Since the ninth century, Christians have celebrated All Hallows Day on November 1 in honor of deceased holy persons, or saints, referred to as “Hallows.”
The Christian Halloween adopted traditions from a much older Celtic holiday. More than 2000 years ago, the Druids observed a festival called Samhain, during which the god of the dead, they believed, came back to earth accompanied by ghosts and goblins. Sound familiar? The Celtic people wore animal skins and animal heads to hide from these evil spirits, and Druid priests burned sacrifices to appease the spirits.
Oddly enough, thinking back now with a different perspective, Halloween actually led to my first encounter with “localization issues”. As a kid I spent several years living in Waterloo, Belgium. We lived in an area that was well populated with ex-pat North Americans – so to a kid it didn’t really feel that much different a place to live, I was surrounded by plenty of kids who spoke English natively and thus never really had to step outside the “North American” culture.
Halloween though changed that perspective a bit – a few months into our first year there we went out and just assumed that Halloween was a universal thing. Sticking to the North American “tradition” of only going to houses with the lights on outside we started out trick or treating. For the first dozen or so houses we encountered things went well (although the streets did seem awfully empty) – the usual Halloween routine unfolded as you’d expect. At one of the first houses off our street though things sort of unraveled.
We rang the doorbell and a rather startled looking woman came to the door, as I imagine most people might look if their doorbell rang late in the evening and you opened the door to find a bunch of kids in odd costumes yelling something at you in a language you don’t know. She made some kind of gesture (which we interpreted as “wait”, or something thereabouts) and ran back into the house. She emerged a minute later with an entire box of crackers and promptly tossed it in the closest bag, smiled akwardly, and closed the door. As we walked away scratching our heads the outside lights went off.
That’s the first time I can clearly remember recognizing that things just aren’t the same everywhere I go. Sitting here today I can honestly say I’m glad that I learned that lesson as a kid, and not today as I try and take a business beyond the borders of my native country. As a kid it was an akward moment, for a business it could be a devastating step.