Halloween History - Fact and Fiction?
Halloween is a scary holiday. It's full of spooks, witches, ghosts, goblins, the supernatural and other frightening things.
When I was little, back in the fifties, we would trick or treat till the cows came home. Safely. We LIVED for picking out our costumes, (you can be ANYTHING you want to be!!!) counting the days till we would collect a harvest of candy and goodies in our baskets and happily dividing it up to "favorites" and "so-so's" when you got home. And how about wearing the costume to school? Oh yess....how fun!! And if at any time along our way trick or treating we encountered any trouble of any kind, ANY neighborhood home knew us well, and would welcome us to soothe our troubles. Ah.....how good it is to have these memories.
Now, it is such a different time. Little children are ever so carefully escorted to just a few homes, candy is critically analyzed and even thrown away.
Meanwhile, the history of Halloween is interesting. It puts a rather new face on this scary 'evil' holiday. Halloween is also simply fun. Thank goodness, it's still fun.
Halloween started out to be a Druid pagan holiday named Samhain the Celtic god of the dead, which starts at sundown, October 31st, meaning "Summer's End." It was celebrated by the Celtics, in Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles and Wales. This was a LONG time ago, over 2000 years ago. The Feast of the Dead took place, offering food and tidbit for the spirits of those gone before. November 1st was New Year's Day.
The Romans celebrated Feralia, on February 21 of the Roman year, to give rest and peace to the dead and departed, making sacrifices, offering prayers and obligations to their dead. Some sources say this was held in late October. They also celebrated to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, thusly the apple came to be associated with Halloween. Both these Romans holidays were combined with the Celtic celebration Samhaim.
Then the Romans decided to take over the pagan Celts. Since their religion was 'right,' and they wanted the Celts and pagans to go along with them, they combined holidays. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV through the Catholic Church replaced both holidays with All Saints' Day in order to consolidate these cultures. It was a day to celebrate and honour all saints in heaven and it was held on May 13th. Later, it was changed to November 1st by Gregory III (some say this was Gregory IV in 834 AD) and celebrated the night before All Hollow's Eve, October 31st..
Thusly "All Hallow' Eve" and "Hallomass" came to light. "Hallow" is an old word meaning "holy and "e'en" is Scottish for evening. Holy Evening.
The original reason for the holiday had a multitude of purposes. The pagan cultures considered this to be a time to prepare for a hard and life threatening winter, and to celebrate a time of abundance and plenty. A bad harvest season, would indeed, mean disaster and certain death. Since their world was controlled by the the favor or disfavour of their gods, the celebrations throughout the year included sacrifices and honours.
The Celtic clans took their ancestry very seriously, and it was important to start such a time with the support of their entire clan, the living, the dead and the yet to be born. Those who had died were celebrated by the large feasts. Death was commonplace and never far away, but always to be highly honoured. During this night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the spirits of their clan to enter their world, to celebrate and renew the family's strengths. This was a time to respectfully remember the dead who wandered about freely this night.
Lucky be he who found a warm body to take over - he could stay!! Darkening your home made it unattractive and a place not to seek a receptive living body!
The tradition of trick or treat started with the leaving of food on your doorstep, not only to feed these spirits but to keep them from making further mischief. The actual term of 'trick or treat' did not start in the US until the 1930's, and with it came a tendency towards pranks which has unfortunately grown to an alarming proportion today.
The rural Scots celebrated their New Years, called Hogmanay, when they would go door to door asking for funds, breads and food to support the large celebration of St. Columbus Kill. Curses would be invoked on those who did not give generously; while those who did give from their hearts were blessed and praised.
"Souling" took place on November 2nd in the 800's, the begging for soul cakes, or offerings, especially blessings of prosperity and protection against bad luck. Those who begged the soul cakes were asking for prayers for the deceased. Practical jokes and pranks were played upon the houses that did not participate. The visitation of fairies occurred as well, and treats were left on the porch in order to gain favour with the "wee folk" and to avoid similar fates to a household.
Bon fires were originally called "bone fires" as the feasting that accompanied the Celtic celebration of fire including throwing the bones of the meat as offerings upon the fires that burned to cook the food as well as to keep warm this chilly night. The Druids would build the bonfires out of their sacred oak trees. Each household let their own fires go cold to be rekindled from the bone fire to ensure unity in the villages. The ash from the bone fires were spread about over the fields to protect and bless the land for coming years. The largest and most important Druid bone fire was at Usinach, in the middle of Ireland. Another theory for letting their fires die out on this night was that a home without a fire was not a home the spirits wanted to occupy.
Lighting of candles eventually replaced the actual bon fire.
The start of dressing up as a ghost may be to have the ability to walk amongst the ghosts unrecognized and unharmed. The belief that all time and space was suspended during this night when spirits returned, not necessarily invited after all these years of tradition. Those who had died in the previous year would return to take over a living body, so protection was needed to prevent those who visited from taking over a live body in order to obtain an after life. Masks and costumes were perfect disquises. Turnips were carved into the faces of protective spirits to keep one safe during this time. Pumpkins were eventually used later, but both were plentiful during harvest. Another theory is that when you escorted the ghosts back to their graves the following morning, they would easily follow those dressed as ghosts.
Celts danced around their bonfires in animal skins and heads, perhaps from their belief that they descended from magical beasts, and this may contribute to the costumes of Halloween.
The name Jack O'Lantern (Jack of the Lantern) comes from an old Irish tale. Jack was a local drunk and trickster who tricked the devil into a tree to pick fruit. While the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross in the tree trunk, trapping the devil there. Jack made a deal with the devil in order to let him down, that he would not take Jack's soul. When Jack finally died, he wasn't allowed in heaven because of his evil ways, nor into hell as he had tricked the devil. When he begged the devil to let him in hell, the devil threw Jack a lump of burning coal. Jack carried the coal in a rotten turnip to light his way as he wandered the darkness of eternity between heaven and hell. The legend was brought to America by Irish immigrants in the 1840's fleeing from the potoato famine, and perhaps pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips at this point, and certainly easier to hollow out!
Candles were lit in windows to guide the wandering spirits to their old homes.An old legend says that candle flames that flicker on Samhain night are being touched by the spirits of dead ancestors.
Apples were left or buried on the roadsides to provide for those spirits without family or destination. The Romans combined their harvest holiday (that included apples) with the Celtic holiday of Samhaim. If a woman peels an apple standing in front of a mirror and manages to peel it completely in one strip, she will see the face of her future love in the mirror.
Black cats became a Halloween symbol as it was believed spirits could return in the body of an animal and black cats were certainly the one of the most ominous. Cats were believed to be the spirit of a deceased person. Salem gave the back cats a bad name as witches used the black cat for her spirit companion and the cat went from there.
Witch history is so large no one could hope to cover it all. "Witch" comes from the word "Wicca" meaning "wise one." Halloween seems to be a natural night of celebration for those who dwell in dark activities. A witch was an honoured person in the days of old, a wise woman who could heal and well versed in the areas of the spirit. Today's Wiccans are simply returning to those values.
I went hunting once, trying to discover where the conical hat started, let alone the standard ugly witch vision. The best guesses involved a hat once worn in the witch hunt era, and of course, the infamous cauldron was used to make spell inducing soups from the same age.
Halloween is my favorite holiday, right next to Christmas. We devoted Halloweeners get a lot of static, supporting something 'evil' opposed to a holiday of Christ. Christmas is a wonderous holiday and it's intention even more so. MY Christmas pages will be equally extensive when I get those done.
Halloween is just a fun holiday. You can be anything you want. It's a pretend holiday. What more fun could the child in us ask for?
Certainly there are those that celebrate the dark sides of life, in every aspect, not just a holiday. I am just an adult that hung on to enough childhood to still enjoy Halloween.
And what do I do for Halloween? Come see for yourself!
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Do something special this year. Have fun, and scare the living **** out of the kids. It's what Halloween is for and they love every minute of it!!
Help to make the Halloween in your neighborhood fun, scary and SAFE!!!
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