Halloween History


 Customs and superstitions gathered through the ages go into the celebration of Halloween. The roots of Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic pastoral festival of Samhain (pronounced "S-un" or "sow-en"), the original festival that became "All Saints' Day," or "All Hallow's Evening," later contracted into Halloween. Samhain was a pastoral festival, is considered the third and final Harvest, that of the Livestock.

 Translated to "summer's end", the day before Samhain is the last day of the old year and the day after Samhain is the first day of the New Year. It is important to note that October 31 was not listed on Celtic calendars, being a day "between years." It is considered a very magical night, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future may be lifted. It was a day especially strong in prophecy and divination.

 The ancient Druids believed that on the last night of October, the veil between this world and the otherworld or "Sidhe" was diminished enough to allow the spirits of the dead, evil spirits, ghosts and witches to roam abroad. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on that night and villagers lit bonfires to drive them away. It was thought that spirits from the dead could inhabit living people during this time unless the human forms were so grotesque, scary, or pitiable that no spirit would possibly want to assume such an undesirable body. Laughing bands of guisers (young people disguised in grotesque masks) carved lanterns from turnips and carried them through the villages to scare away the spectres and spooks for this very reason. People used noisemakers such as bells, horns, or rattles to drive the spirits away. The masks and noisemakers so common at today's New Year's Eve celebrations are attributed to customs and traditions associated with Samhain. Folk artists used all their ingenuity to make effective costumes, masks, and noisemakers for all of these significant community celebrations. They prepared special foods in symbolic shapes; decorated trees, poles, vehicles, and banners; and sculpted figures, lanterns, dolls, and shrine adornments.

 Reflecting on the rich cultural mores that were brought to the United States by Irish immigrants, children today still carve faces on hollowed-out pumpkins and put lighted candles inside to make jack-o'-lanterns. Halloween celebrations today reflect many of these early customs. Stores and homes display orange and black figures of witches, bats, black cats, and pumpkins. People dressed in fanciful outfits go to costume parties, where old-fashioned games like bobbing for apples in tubs of water may be a part of the festivities. Children attired in costumes and masks (website) go from house to house demanding "trick or treat." The treat, usually candy, is generally given and the trick rarely played. To provide an alternative to begging for candy from strangers, many communities schedule special, supervised parties and events at Halloween.

 Even after November 1 became a Christian feast day honoring all saints, many people clung to the old pagan beliefs and customs that had grown up about Halloween. Some tried to foretell the future on that night by performing such rites as jumping over lighted candles. Today many people mark the occasion by bringing flowers to cemeteries and cleaning the graves of deceased loved ones. In the Philippines, unexplained illnesses are often said to be caused by failure to remember a relative's tomb. In countries such as Bolivia and Mexico, it is common for special tables or altars to the dead to be set up in homes and for feasts to be prepared. Roman Catholics throughout the world attend mass on All Saints' Day because it is a holy day of obligation. In the United States, in the State of Louisiana (which has a large Roman Catholic population), November 1 is a legal holiday.

 Does Halloween promote witchcraft and Satanism as many church leaders would have us believe? In truth, no! It is merely a celebration of our cultural heritage, a time to remember departed souls, to conquer our fears and more so, a time to simply have fun. How many memories do you have tied to the simple phrase..."Trick or Treat."