The History and Origins of Halloween
Every kid (and kid at heart) looks forward to October, 31st each year. Little boys magically turn into vampires and little girls into fairies, bidding for the greatest haul of sugar laden sweets and candies. However, Halloween has a much deeper, and in some ways darker history, that has given birth to one of the most beloved holidays in the world.
Halloweens origins go all the way back to Ancient times with the Celtic festival of Samhain. This was the Celts version of a New Years Eve celebration honoring the end of summer and harvest time, and marking a period of cold, darkness, and death of winter. Celts believed that this end of the year time marked the time in which the barrier between the living and the dead became thin. On October 31st the spirits would come back from the dead and create havoc by damaging the crops with frost and causing a multitude of other troubles.
The Roman church soon enacted a holiday to detour the worship of spirits, and so proclaimed November 1st as All Saints Day to honor the saints and martyrs of the church. This day was also known as All Hallows Eve. As the two religions began to mix much of the traditions of Samhain, such as dressing up in costumes and dancing around the fire, became one with All Hallows Eve to create Halloween.
Tradition has always been a part of Halloween from its very start. Its no wonder then that many of our traditions today came from this time period. An example of these traditions would be bobbing for apples. When Roman tradition mixed with Celtic tradition, so did their festivals. One festival near the time of Samhain was a day to honor the goddess of fruit trees, Pamona. Pamona is quite often symbolized as an apple, hence the modern day practice of bobbing for apples.
Trick or Treating is also a tradition of Halloween with early starts. Trick or Treating came from All Souls Day parades in early England. The poor citizens of England would line up on the sides of the street as the richer members of the community paraded by and threw them pastries called soul cakes. The starving citizens would accept these cakes in exchange for praying for the richer classs dead family members.
Another tradition of Halloween is dressing up in costumes. This is another tradition that started in early England where citizens, knowing that Hallows Eve was a time for the spirits of their ancestors to come back and taunt them, would dress up in masks and costumes to keep the spirits from recognizing them.
Halloween is a fun time of year for the entire family. Its incredibly rich with history and a tribute to the idea that cultures can intermingle and incorporate each others traditions to create a holiday that can be celebrated by all.
More About The History and Origins of Halloween
The holiday that we know as Halloween today bares little resemblance to it's origins. While many of the traditions of making jack 'o' lanterns, and giving out treats do come from the old European holiday known as Samhain, (pronounced SOW-ain), the origins of Halloween are very different from what we celebrate today.
First, to give an understanding to the reader of these old "pagan" holidays, one must understand the meaning of some of the old language and culture of the times. The term 'pagan', while having come to mean rudely and wrongly something like "devil worshipper by the Christian mythology standards merely meant "country people" in the language of the times. It was used as a sort of derogatory term by the ruling class in reference to those they ruled over meaning something like 'country bumpkin'.
Samhain was one of four "fire" festivals of the Celtic calendar year. It marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. In the old Manx New Year festival was called Laa Houney or Hollantides Day. In the Welsh, a language still used today; it was called Nos Galen-Gaeaf or Night of the Winter Calends. In the Old World the old day ended and the new day began at sun set. The day before Samhain was considered the last day of Summer, or in the old Irish Celtic language, Samradh, (pronounced sow-rawth), and was the day that marked the end of the old year, or the Light half of the year. Just as Samhain marked the end of the old year it also marked the beginning of the new year, or Geimredh, (pronounced geim-reth), otherwise known as the Winter or dark half of the year.
The Autumn part of the year, or Foghamhar, (pronounced foth-am-ar), was considered to be part of the light half of the year. Spring, or Earrach, (pronounced air-rock), was considered to be part of the dark half of the year.
Samhain was, and still is, considered to be a very mystical and magical time that was 'between' the seasons and the years. It was considered to be the time that the spirits of those who have passed on could walk among those still on the corporeal plane and the time for doing divination. The veil between the worlds was and still is considered to be the thinnest at this time of year, and therefore the perfect time to find out what the new year would bring, as well as the time to delve into the past to help solve any unresolved issues.
Samhain lasted for three days in the old times and these three days were considered the time of "no time". It was during the days of 'no time' that people were allowed to do things that normally was frowned upon by the highly structured society of the Celts. This was where the tradition of 'trick or treat' came from. The children would go from dwelling to dwelling knocking on the doors asking for food or treats of some kind, and if the those who dwelt within did not oblige, they just might find themselves at the receiving end of a possibly rather nasty trick. Adults would indulge in shenanigans like taking someone's livestock and moving them to a different field without telling the owner of the livestock, or tearing down the gates to the corral that held a particular farmer's horses, cows, or pigs and allowing the animals to get away. There would be bon-fires and dancing and, of course, plenty of mead.
While it would seem to be a holiday that promoted a form of lunacy, it had a much deeper and serious meaning. These days were very special days and seemed to have a very mystical and magical quality about them. It was this quality that was used by the druidic priests of the Celts to their best advantage. These were the days in which to contact the spirits of the ancestors on the 'other side' of the veil between the worlds.
Unlike the view that most people share today about loved ones who have passed on, the Celts viewed their ancestors not as ghosts or spirits of the dead, but believed their loved ones on the 'other side' were very much living spirits and that death had been purely on a physical level. Ancestors were viewed as guides and helpers for their family still in the mortal world and not as something evil to be feared.
By the year 43 A.D. the Romans had conquered much of the Celtic lands an over the next 400 years two Roman festivals became combined with Samhain. Feralia, celebrated in late October was a commemeration of the passing of the dead. The second Roman festival was a celebration in honor of Pomona the goddess of trees and fruit. Pomona's symbol was the apple and this may explain the origins of "bobbing for apples" in our celebrations of Halloween today.
With the rise of Christianity, the Catholic church tried it's best to stop this "heathen" festival, but as one can see they were rather unsuccessful in their attempts. So the church took the three days of Samhain and named them All Hallows Eve, All Hallows or All Saints Day, and All Soul's Day. These are, respectively, October 31, November 1, and November 2. Later the name was changed to Halloween.
It was not until Christianity came to the Isles that the Christian devil ever became associated with Halloween. There was no concept of a devil or Satan in the Earth-based religions, nor was there anything even remotely evil about Samhain, or as it is now called, Halloween.
Today, for most people, Halloween is the time for masquerade parties, and having the kiddies dress up in halloween costumes and roam about the neighborhood for trick or treat getting all the tooth decaying sweeties they can stand; And for the older kids to run amok pulling, (hopefully), harmless pranks.
So as one can well see there is nothing inherently evil or "satanic" about Samhain, or Halloween. It's the a time to celebrate the cycle of the seasons and to have good friends over for a feast and merry making. So, "Merry we meet, and merry we part and a magical Samhain and Happy Halloween to all!
The History of the Jack-O-Lantern
People have been carving jack-o-lanterns for hundreds of years. The tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns was brought to America by the Irish.
According to Irish mythology there was a man known as Stingy Jack who had tricked the Devil. One result of his trick was that the Devil could never claim his soul. When Stingy Jack finally died he found that he could not gain access to Heaven either. He found himself wondering in the darkness. The Devil gave him an ember directly from the fires of Hell to help hime see in the darkness. Stingy Jack hollowed out a turnip and placed the burning ember inside. Ever since that day Stingy Jack has roamed through the earth, trapped between Heaven and Hell.
The Irish people carved their jack-o-lanterns on All Hallow's Eve and placed candles within them to keep evil spirits and Stingy Jack away. Originally the jack-o-lantern was carved from turnips, potatoes, gourds, rutabagas and even beets. Irish immigrants found that pumpkins were much larger than turnips and much easier to be carved. Gradually the pumpkin became the fruit of choice for carving jack-o-lanterns.
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