Thursday, October 28, 2010

The History of Halloween

Sunday is the one day of the year when the young and not-so-young get to let their true faces show during the only time it’s acceptable to be seen in costume and masks. Once again, it’s Halloween, or more accurately, Samhain (pronounced SOW-IN), which means summer’s end and is celebrated at the end of fall and beginning of winter. It was a final celebration of the harvest before the earth slumbered through winter. The day also marked the Celts’ version of the New Year and the time when they believed the dead came back to walk the earth once more. The holiday has been with us for centuries in various forms.

The day was a time to honor ancestors, but also ward off evil spirits by wearing costumes to confuse them. Turnips were carved with faces and placed in the windows to scare off the dead. People would go “a-souling.” They would pray for the household’s dead relatives in exchange for food and drink. In Scotland, the dead were impersonated by men who would wear all white and cover their faces with a veil.

Halloween as we know it today can be traced back to the early Christians. In the 800s, the Catholic Church wanted to wipe out pagan holidays and convert the heathens, so they would create a holy day to coincide with an established pagan festival. The Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona’s Day were merged with Samhain and the new holiday replaced all three. Pomona’s day was a harvest festival in honor of the Roman Goddess of fruits and trees. This could explain where the tradition of bobbing for apples came from. Feralia was a day of mourning and remembering the dead.

Early Christians began celebrating All Saints Day on Nov. 1. They began their observance at sunset the night before. Some of the ways they celebrated were to dress in costumes of Christian saints to scare away the evil spirits and then they would go door-to-door, begging for food. Eventually, All Souls’ Day, which commemorated the dead who were not saints was added on Nov. 2. Soul cakes (currant buns) were given out when those celebrating went from house to house, offering to pray for their dead, similar to the a-souling.

Less than a century later, those two early Christian holidays merged into Hallow Time (Oct. 31-Nov. 2). Most of the celebrations took place the night before All Hallows Day on All Hallows Eve. Halloween quickly became the name.

Today, the holiday has grown so popular, it is second only to Christmas in the amount of money spent on decorations. Many Christian churches discourage their members from celebrating, saying it is evil; however, simply reading up on the history tells a different story.

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Blogger Katherine C. Teel said...

Christians didn't want to "wipe out pagan holidays and convert the heathens, so they would create a holy day to coincide with an established pagan festival."

Christians were the people of the land, and they were the people with the festivals. No other religion allowed converts to keep their celebrations; only Christianity did. Far from wanting to wipe out anything, Christianity encouraged every culture to continue with its fullest expressions, and worked hard to simply change the focus from the old gods to Christ and the saints. In most cases, that was just a simple name change. Very few practices changed, except for the ones that were blatantly anti-Christian: human sacrifices, orgies, selling children, leaving daughters to die from exposure, adult-child sexual relationships, etc.

All Christian holy days begin the night before (as do Jewish and Muslim holy days). The name Halloween used to be Hallowe'en, or Hallows' Even, from All Hallows' Day, or All Saints' Day. Samhain, of course, was the end of year festival, the 3rd and biggest in the series of harvest festivals. But it's not accurate to say that Halloween and Samhain are the same thing--Samhain is a Pagan/Wiccan harvest festival. It's a religious holiday. All Saints' Day is also a religious holiday. Contemporary Halloween is a fun but completely secular holiday that has nothing to do with the two great religious festivals that influenced it in the past.

The problem with much of the information you find about Hallowe'en on the internet is that it's written either by the anti-Christian who talk like the evil Christians came in and stomped all over the peace-loving customs of the simple pagan peoples, or it's written by equally ignorant Christians who think that to put on a costume and eat candy somehow means you could accidentally worship Satan.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The seriously religious and pious are not threatened by quasi-religious celebrations. They can sort out the "religious" elements from the rest.

I like to remember that there was a time in Massachusetts when Christmas celebrations were banned. In as secular society there is not place for Christian taliban telling others what they should or should not do.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Picturit said...

Happy Samhain or Halloween or All saints or Hallows eve, whatever make people happy. It's a celebration a chance for people to come together and have fun. Communicate have a laugh and a drink. Kids love it a chance to dress up and eat sweets. Let's not get too religious about it. However it is a Pagan festival it was called Samhain like your post explains. This is fact not fiction. Great informative post. Enjoy Your night of ghosts and witches. HOOOOOOHAAAAAAA( evil laugh)

2:31 PM  

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