By Roxanne Miller
Halloween…All Hallows’ Eve…Hallowe’en….one of the most mysterious holidays of the year where kids (and adults!) dress up for free candy as witches, ghosts and ghouls seeking to bring terror throughout the night! But just where did this celebration of all things terrifying (and delightful) come from? Sit back, relax and I’ll tell you 😉
Samhain is an ancient pagan holiday originating amongst the Celts celebrating the end of the harvest season as winter preparations were in order. A harvest, you ask? I know…not that interesting. However, what is interesting is their belief that on October 31st, the veil between the living and the dead overlapped, allowing those that past into the afterlife to return to our world and wreak havoc on it by damaging crops or causing an influx of sickness to break out. They ALSO believed that as the spiritual world opened up, it was easier for Druids (Celtic priests) to make prophecies about the future – which was a key source of direction and comfort as they prepared for the long, dark, cold winter. Samhain was celebrated with huge sacred bonfires, animal sacrifices to the gods and dressing in costumes while attempting to read each others’ fortunes. As a means of protection from the coming winter, personal hearth fires were lit from the sacred bonfire.
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Flash forward to May 13, 609 A.D. when Pope Boniface IV established All Martyrs Day, which was later moved from May 13 to November 1 and expanded to include saints as well by Pope Gregory III. As Christianity moved to the Celtic lands, November 2 became All Souls’ Day – a day to honor the dead – in 1000 A.D.. This action was believed to be an attempt to replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned holiday, as it was celebrated in much the same way. The celebration itself was called All-hallows or All-hallomas and the night before was known as All-hallows Eve, which eventually became Halloween.
Celebrating this holiday was limited in colonial times and it wasn’t until Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine of 1846 that Halloween began to shape into what we know it to be today. Infusing Irish and English traditions, Americans would dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for money – the earlier version of today’s “trick-or-treating.”
Interesting, huh? So how are you planning on spending All-hallows Eve? Here are a few ways to kick your celebration up a notch 😉
- Carving Jack-O’-Lanterns…the ultimate Halloween tradition! Jack-O’-Lanterns originated from a Celtic
folktale about a drunken farmer (Jack) who tricked the devil, leading him to be vanquished from both Heaven and Hell. When he passed, he made a lantern from a turnip and a burning lump of coal from the devil to guide his lost soul. As a result, Celts would put Jack-O’-Lanterns outside to help guide lost spirits home when they wander the streets on Halloween AND to scare evil spirits away. Could be a fun way to guide your child home after a long-night of trick-or-treating ;).
- Costumes…can’t celebrate Halloween without them! More on the topic of trick-or-treating: the ancient Celts believed that if you dressed up as a ghoul you would trick evil spirits into thinking you were one of them. How many people can you fool this year? Find a costume that your friends and neighbors won’t be able to recognize you in!
- Celebrating with Halloween colors! If you’re having a party, keep the harvest celebration alive by decorating in orange and black! Orange represents the changing of the leaves and the colors of the crops, while black represents the “death” of summer and coming autumn.
- Mischief Night…is a great night to play jokes on family and friends. Samhain was celebrated with games and friendly, comical pranks – it wasn’t until the 1920s that “Mischief Night” meant smashing jack-o’-lanterns and toilet-papering houses. So take a step back into ancient times and keep the tradition alive in a fun and friendly way 😉
- Candy Apples…cause who can say no to apples on a stick covered in chocolate?!? Why eat these lovely treats on Halloween? The Romans celebrated Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees, around the same time that the Celts celebrated Samhain, with the apple being one of her main symbols. Eventually, as Roman and Celtic traditions merged together, the apple also became a symbol of the harvest celebrations.
- Bobbing for Apples…more apples?? Of course! Its apple season! Not as delicious and tempting as a candy apple, but a fun game to play non-the-less! Crazy how in ancient times, the apple was considered a sacred fruit that can aid in divination! On Halloween, it was believed that the first person to snatch an apple from a bucket of water without using their hands would be the first to marry. If you got an apple on your first try, true love was on its way. If you struggled a bit to get your apple, you may struggle a bit in your love life. Single ladies…dare to test that theory out?