Halloween goes way back
Thu, 10/31/2013 - 11:00pm admin
The celebration of Halloween is an event with roots which go far back to pagan times and is thought to have originated with Samhain, a Celtic festival celebrated as the short days and long, dark nights of winter approached.
Winter was a scary time back then, with no electric lights, no grocery store or McDonald’s to run too if food supplies fell short. The day marked the end of the plenty of summer and the beginning of the dark, cold time when there might not be enough to eat.
During Samhain, people would light bonfires, feast and wear costumes to scare away roaming ghostly spirits who might want to move in for the duration of the cold weather.
They believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth to make mischief. They also thought it was a time to communicate with the spirits to find out about the future.
Then the came the great Roman Empire. By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered Northern France, England and Ireland. The Romans decided to combine two of their festivals with Samhain.
Feralia was the day in late October when Romans celebrated those who have passed.
The second was Pomona, the Goddess of fruit and trees, who was also honored at this time of year. It is likely the tradition of bobbing for apples harkens back to this long ago celebration.
By the time 1,000 years had passed the influence of Christianity had spread to pagan lands. The Celts were no more. Pope Gregory III named Nov. 1 as All Saints and All Martyrs Day. Nov. 2 was later named All-Souls Day. All Souls Day was celebrated with bonfires, dressing up and other festivities.
Halloween began as the night before All Saints Day, also called All Hallows, which was celebrated by the church with a Mass, at Hallowmas. All Hallows Eve was eventually corrupted to Halloween.
While the Puritans recognized the pagan influences of Halloween and did not celebrate it, in southern states Halloween was more popular. Waves of Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century brought their own twist to the traditions.
The Irish began the practice of carving turnips into candle holders or Jack-O-Lanterns. In America pumpkins were more readily available and easier to carve. Halloween began to be celebrated across the nation with parties for children and adults. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes.
During the festivities, poor people would beg for food and would be given pastries called soul cakes in return for their promise to pray for dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits.
Originally the spirits were thought to be friendly. People would set an extra place at the meal table for the spirits to join them or leave treats of food on the doorstep. They lit candles to light the way home for the spirits of deceased loved ones.
Later these ghosts became scarier and customs and superstitions became scarier too. Many of the superstitions focused on the future, not the past.
Young women would do their best to find out the identity of their future husbands while brushing their hair in front of a mirror in a candlelit room, hoping to catch a glimpse of their true love’s face in the mirror behind them.
Another similar tradition involved peeling an apple skin in one piece, then throwing it over the shoulder in the hope the peel would spell out the initials of the girls husband-to-be.
Today’s traditions of pumpkin pie, bonfires and dressing up bear little resemblance to the original Celtic celebrations and they are no longer tied to the church, but it is still fun to celebrate at what would otherwise be a rather gloomy time of year.