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Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween and what it really is..

Few days in the year have as many different personalities, or as many problems associated with it as Halloween. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Evening is a Christianized version of the original Celtic holy day known as Samhain (pronounced Sow-en). Samhain is Gaelic for “summer’s end”.

The Celts, lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead became thinner and easier to pass through. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to walk amongst the living. They were not afraid of these dead, for they were the loved ones that may have passed on in the last year. This was the time to say the final goodbyes and honor the dead.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-Hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday. Halloween is a time for dressing up, giving (and receiving) candy treats and having a ghoulishly good time. Many businesses will sponsor places and times for children to come, get candy and show off their costumes in a safe place. Some neighborhoods even have block type parties for the little ones to trick or treat.

There are of course those who would say that Halloween is “the Devil’s day” and that it should be banned from the calendar. These people will not let their children participate because of supposed “Satanic” influences. Ironic, since as I noted above, Halloween is a Christian convention. This is also very sad I think. I recall many wonderful Halloween experiences from my own childhood. The thrill of getting out and seeing my neighborhood friends dressed in costumes ranging from Warner Bros characters like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, to Capt Kirk or the musicians from KISS.

Halloween is indeed a time for remembrance, but not only for the dead that have crossed over , it is also a time for remember the fun of being a child, playing dress up and most importantly, scoring lots of candy!

Have a safe and Happy Halloween



At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being born on Halloween, this is a very enlightening read. Thank you.

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Serena said...

An excellent and informative article! Thanks for this post!

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous kelley said...

thanks for posting this! =)

and be well =)

At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Aesa said...

It is worth noting that the name "Celt" was one imposed on the various and disparate tribes of those land you name by the Romans. The people did not identify themselves as Celts until much, much later.

It is also worth noting that folks did indeed fear the dead, hence the costumes and masks and illuminated faces carved into turnips-all were devices to hide one's true identity from the roaming dead.

The young, disguised as those who had died in the previous year, would often go from house to house demanding an offering, which was almost always given. One did not want to risk angering or slighting the dead at this time of year.

Jeff, a lovely article indeed.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Vonda said...

Well Done Jeff!! Thanks for enlighting me on the history of Halloween! Happy Halloween!!

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Branwenn said...

Jeff--this is wonderful! An excellent article, illuminating for all.
Happy Samhain!

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting, and well written but a bit homogenized. those that practice the occultic behaviors still celebrate the 31st as their highest holy day and laugh at supposed Christians when they celebrate the same day. Nov 1 was given to honor the dead saints-but America doesn't choose to follow that path. Ask a cop how fun h'ween is and you won't get a lot of support either.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Yeah, I remember how fun H'ween was as a Police Officer, something I did for almost 16 years. :) Also, the story is homogenized for a reason, many traditions and paths celebrate Samhain differently, so to say "this and such" is the THE way would not best serve my readership, nor would it be accurate.
Thanks for reading :)

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous peter hook said...

A very informative article Jeff, I didn't realize you were a policeman for 16 years. Thank you for your service to our community.


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