Bram Stoker’s legendary book Dracula holds the key to this association, and you don’t even need to read all that far to see it. In the first chapter, the ill-fated Jonathan Harker is on his way to Count Dracula’s home, and has arrived in Romania on a very auspicious day.
“Do you know what day it is?” asks the landlady at Bistritz. “It is the eve of St George’s Day. Tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all evil things in the world will have full sway.” She does not help make him feel any better, needless to say. But why does this day hold such significance?
It’s necessary to point out that for us in England, and indeed in most parts of Europe, St George’s Day is celebrated on the 23rd April. But in areas ruled by the Eastern Orthodox Church, a couple of centuries ago, this feast day took place on May the 5th. Over time, this date gained significance akin to All Hallow’s Day, and the night preceding it, All Hallows Eve. The myth is the same: A holy day, and on the eve of it, a night where all manner of horrific creatures come to stalk the land of the living.
In a way of thinking, Hallowe’en is our Western version of this mythos of evil being released, except we just appropriated a pagan celebration date for it. The Eastern Orthodox version drew influence from local folklore, which, in places like Romania, has dozens of different words for vampires, werewolves and undead creatures – vrolok, vârcolac, strigoiacă, to name just a few. One can even trace the use of garlic to old Romanian traditions around St George’s Day, whereby the plant is used to ward off evil, but consuming it on the eve or before would allow you to hear the thoughts of animals. My thoughts immediately skip to Count Dracula asking Jonathan if he can hear ‘what sweet music’ the wolves make.
Eastern Europe has a lot of fascinating mythology, and when Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he tapped into a lot of it, and although Stoker was responsible for a fair amount of misinformation compared to the actual folklore, he did do his research well enough to pick some very significant dates.
But in modern times, it is interesting to note that these two dates have been taken up by popular culture once again, for no reason other than the celebration of the brilliant sci-fi western film series Star Wars, due to some funny date-related puns.
So what we have is a host of ungodly and undeniably evil creatures, appearing from the supernatural world (or the Dark Side, if you will) to take their revenge on the Fifth. And if that isn’t a fascinating historical coincidence, I don’t know what is.
image © Nosferatu, F.W Murneau, 1922