Halloween and Harry Potter
Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve lands on the 31st of October every year. Nowadays people celebrate the date as a holiday where children wear costumes, go trick-or-treating, and receive candy, but Halloween has much more to its roots than we think. About 2,000 years ago in Celtic Ireland, Celtics celebrated Samhain, a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season (lighter half of the year) and the beginning of winter (darker half of the year). This is also known as a pagan holiday, when it was believed that the separation between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits of the afterlife to pass through and freely walk the Earth. During this event, people wore masks to protect themselves (History, A&E Television Networks).
In Christianity, the beliefs of All Hallows’ Eve are also similar. When Halloween first came into written use in English, the 31st wasn’t the focus” November 1st was. November 1st was known as All Saints’ Day, a day of feasts to honor the Christian Saints and honor and pray for the souls of the dead. This was created by the church to downplay the pagan holidays of Halloween, however, it wasn’t until the 16th century that this day was called All Saints’ Day. Prior to that time, this day was known as All Hallows’ Day, derived from the word “h?lig” which means “holy”. This day used to be a bigger deal back then and was celebrated with three grand days of feasts. Important feasts days started the night before with a vigil, which gave All Hallows’ Eve its notoriety. By the 16th century, the event’s name was then shortened to Hallowe’en, and then eventually lost its apostrophe in the 18th century. No matter what the belief may be, it is extremely apparent that Halloween is and has been a spiritual time.
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There are many connections between the holiday of Halloween and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The significance is evident in the majority of the Harry Potter books, especially in the first four books where many pivotal events occur. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Ron, and Hermione battle a troll wreaked havoc inside Hogwarts. It was at this moment that the three characters formed a connection which made their friendship and bond more concrete. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it was on Halloween when The Chamber of Secrets reopened. Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, sneaks into Hogwarts on Halloween and causes panic throughout the school in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Also occurring on Halloween, Harry was chosen as one of the Triwizard Champions in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Later on in the story, it discovered that Sir Nicholas (also known as Nearly Headless Nick), the Gryffindor’s resident ghost, was beheaded on the 31st of October.
Outside of his life in Hogwarts, Halloween was the moment when Harry Potter’s whole world was turned upside down and changed forever. Rowling revealed to her readers that Halloween was the day when Voldemort killed Harry’s parents.
It isn’t clear why J.K. Rowling uses Halloween as a constant event marker in her series, though she has confessed that Halloween is her favorite holiday. Even so, Rowling has continued to use the elements and history of Halloween to bring more life and details into her series. In Rowling’s seventh book, her use of the title Deathly Hallows is not only significant to the plot and understanding of the series, but also very reminiscent of Halloween. The word “hallow” is another term for “relic” in the Catholic faith, which could possible deduce the title’s connection to Horcruxes and the recovery of items once belonging to the Four Founders of Hogwarts. Relics are traditionally parts of a saint’s clothing or body and are placed in areas of high renown. According to the Catholic Church, these relics are “to be glorified and to be venerated by the faithful.” In life, relics represent persons worthy of the highest respect and adoration; however, in death they represent the kind of life one should follow for their own (Thurston). It seems fitting that Harry sets out to retrieve these hallowed items and go to hallowed places (such as Godric’s Hollow) to vanquish Lord Voldemort, and finally restore his world from war to peace.
Deathly hallows formed an intricate part of the story-line and had everything to do with bringing down Voldemort. If it were not for the deathly hallows, Voldemort’s wand would have completely finished Harry, since he did not have the assistance of Snape, Dumbledore, Lupin, and many more other skilled wizards and witches. With the deathly hallows in the picture, it was shown that Harry was the true owner of the elder wand, which Voldemort possessed during the duel. The elder wand recognized its true master and rebounded the killing curse towards Voldemort.
In an exclusive Newsnight interview with BBC News in 2003, Rowling told reporter Jeremy Paxman that the Death Eaters were originally named the Knights of Walpurgis. The name refers to Walpurgis Night, a northern European holiday celebrated on the eve of the feast day for Saint Walpurga, a nun who was sanctified on the 1st of May and helped convert the Germans to Christianity. This event, celebrated on the 30th of April, is exactly six months from Halloween and also shares many similarities. According to German folklore, Walpurgis is “when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with the Devil” (Oxford Dictionary Phrase & Fable). These witches, and others of the same likeness, are able to cause mischief before getting banished the next morning. Like Halloween, Walpurgis Night started out as a pagan holiday, honoring nature and its seasons before becoming a night of mischief and havoc.
In his book Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places, paranormal author Brad Steiger writes that:
“Walpurgis Night has traditionally been regarded as one of the most powerful nights for ghosts, demons, and long-legged beasties… [It] has an even greater potential for smashing the barriers between the seen and unseen worlds.”
It’s very fitting that Rowling had considered naming her most violent characters after a holiday that celebrated with chaos. Though she ended choosing a different name, Walpurgis Night still inspired Rowling; referring to it when naming Sirius Black’s mother, Walburga. While Saint Walpurga was gentle and kind and known for her help in progressing the Catholic Church, Walburga Black is quite the opposite. Sirius’ mother was bitter and had a hatred for non-pure blood wizards” definitely not someone that would come to mind when thinking about the loving Saint (The Harry Potter Lexicon).
J.K. Rowling definitely seems to draw a lot of inspiration from the Halloween and pagan folklore. It’s definitely fitting to have those ideas and stories in a vision like the Harry Potter series. Besides the obvious fact that the series includes a lot of bewitching and needs ideas to give more to the story, the ideas and traditions revolving around death and the supernatural help bring this wizarding world to life. A lot of important events in Harry Potter happened on days when the supernatural is at its strongest and is celebrated. With Halloween being important reoccurring date in this series, Rowling uses it as a way to foreshadow things in the story, giving her readers the ability to make predictions about the future of her characters and their stories. This is quite similar to when the Celtic priests and Druids believed that predicting the future on Halloween was made easier because of the presence of other worldly spirits.