With Halloween right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to give a little background on the holiday! Halloween’s origin is actually in the ancient Celtic festival known as “Samhain” – meaning end of summer – which was a day traditionally used by the ancient pagans to stock up on supplies and livestock for the winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31st, that the boundary between the living and the dead disappeared. They also believed that the dead were dangerous to the living by causing problems such as sickness, or crop damage. At these festivals, they would have large bonfires, and often wear costumes or masks to mimic and appease the evil spirits.
The term “Halloween” is shortened from “All Hallows’ Even” – as it is the eve of “All Hallows’ Day” (in the ninth century, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset- in accordance with the Florentine calendar). Many centuries after the Samhain festival had begun, the Roman Catholic Church attempted to do away with all pagan holidays – including this one. So, the church established that November 1st would be “All Saint’s Day” rather then “All Hallows’ Day. The idea was to celebrate all of the saints who did not have their own holy day. This attempt was quite unsuccessful, as the celebrations on the eve of All Saint’s Day continued to flourish. During the Irish immigration to America in the 1840’s, Halloween made its way to the United States, where it clearly is still quite popular!
You may ask where the popular tradition of trick-or-treating comes from. Well, in the Celtic times and up until the medieval ages, fairies (or faeries) were thought to run free on the Eve of Samhain. The faeries were not considered evil, but also were not considered good, either. They were rather mischievous. The faeries supposedly disguised themselves as beggars and went door to door asking for handouts. Those who gave them food were rewarded, and those who did not were subjected to unpleasantness. Then in the medieval times, it was popular practice to make “soul cakes” on All Hallows’ Eve. In a custom called “souling”, kids would go door to door begging for the cakes. When a child received a cake, they would have to say a prayer for the dead relatives of the person who gave them the cake. It was thought that these prayers would help the deceased relatives find their way out of purgatory and into heaven.
There are many other neat tidbits of information about Halloween that might be of interest to you. For information on how Jack-O’-Lanterns came to be, read about “Stingy Jack” – an old Irish legend – at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Studios/9526/fable018.htm. Thanks for reading - and tell all your friends your new found knowledge of this popular holiday! Have a safe and happy Halloween!
Written by Renee Fouquet