Halloween, where does the word come from? Well in fact Halloween comes from All Hallow Even. The night before All Hallows Day. Therefore Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day.From 1066 to 1485 there was no evidence that the 31st of October was anything other than the eve of All Saints Day. But that changed in the 19th century right up to the present day, and has been associated with witchcraft and ghostly ghoulish things, so why is that? Halloween was developed from the Celtic Feast of Samhain sometimes spelt Samain or Samuin, pronounced "sow-in", this feast marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.
Samhain was the time when the Celts acknowledged the beginning and the ending of all things as they saw the leaves fall from the trees and the coming of the winter. It was a time when they turned to their Goddesses and Gods, seeking to understand the cycles of life and death.. Due to the facts that many people died in the winter, and the people were so dependent on the natural world, they believed that this day the boundary between the living world and the dead opened up gateways. On this day the dead could invade the world of the living and priests would be able to predict the future and talk to the dead more easily. They would dress up and at a large central bonfire pay homage to the Celtic deities, sacrificing animals to the gods. They would also try to tell each other’s fortunes while dressed up in the costumes of animal skins and heads..
It was also a time during the coming of winter that the weakest animals were culled and provision was made to store food stuff to see them through the winter. The Celts called upon their ancestors who they thought could help bring guidance and warnings to help them through the winter months. It was a time when the Druids and soothsayers would forecast events for the coming year.. The High Kings of Ireland held feasts that lasted a week for this purpose, and predictions would be forecast of farming patterns, hunting, and Storms and the Moons eclipses. And whether or not the Kings lands would be free from Plotting Neighbours.
The Celts believed that evil spirits came in the long winter months of darkness and believed that on that night the vale between worlds of the living and those in spirit, were at their weakest. And so therefore would be most likely to be seen on earth. So they built bonfires to frighten the spirits away, and they danced and celebrated around these fires.. The fires were supposed to bring comfort to those souls who were in purgatory and people prayed for them as they burned the piles of straw..
Those in Scotland and Ireland where the Celtic influence was more pronounced kept the strongest traditions of burning fires.. In the seventh century, after Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. The celebrations were called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas and the night before became All-Hallows Eve, eventually becoming our Halloween. And it’s not hard to see that ALL SOULS Day, now practiced on November 2nd is a continuation of the pagan beliefs of Samhain. Interestingly In 1605 in England, the fires were moved to November the 5th ( Bonfire Night ) where the anniversary of the ( Gunpowder plot) was celebrated from the foiled attempt of Guy Fawkes to blow up the houses of parliament.
So Halloween and Bonfire night have a common origin, from pagan times when evil spirits had to be driven away by fire and noise.. So in fact are we on bonfire night still celebrating our ancestor’s pagan Samhain? As we burn the old wood and leaves, and make much noise as we set our fireworks off. Despite it being depicted as a celebration of the saving of the houses of parliament from a foiled Terrorists Plot, I.e. Guy Fawkes.
Coming back to present day Halloween, wearing costumes comes from both Celtic and European heritage. When immigrants came to America, the tradition continued with a few twists, adding mostly due to the varying beliefs. The merging of separate groups of religion, nationality and even Native American traditions changed the All-Hallows-Eve into more of a party for the harvests of the year and a celebration to honour the dead. Dressing up was thought to make the wearer unrecognizable to the ghosts of the dead. The dead would confuse them with other spirits, and to further protect themselves, people would leave bowls of food outside their doors to appease the ghosts.
At the turn of the century, 1900, the government and newspapers encouraged people to have more of a celebration and less of the ghoulish and frightening aspects of Halloween. Parades and festivities were encouraged. Sometime between 1920 and 1950 the tradition of trick or treating was revived, thought of as a way for the whole community to share the holiday traditions.
The tradition of pumpkin carving and Pumpkin Pie came from Native Americans. The Native Americans had a staple food before the first settlers arrived in America, the pumpkin. They got this plant from South and Central America, where seeds have been found dating back thousands of years. The immigrants who arrived soon used the pumpkin in many dishes including one that they would scoop out the seeds and gunk from inside and bake it with milk honey and spices and then eat it, thus the pumpkin pie is born.
Along with the tradition of the Halloween lantern.. Halloween is only now becoming hugely popular here in the UK. As the traditions of trick or treat have come back overseas from America and the Retail stores have embraced the commercial side of advertising Halloween, selling it to the children. And of course making Money out of it. So the day of Halloween is not about the dead or pranks we pull on other people but about the end of the harvest and the warm part of the year. The remembering and honouring the dead is not done by any one nationality or people, but by many. Most people in one way or another honour and remember the people they loved and knew. Halloween is just a day that we can celebrate the people of the past and help to keep their memories alive.
But just wishing all of you who read my blogs a Happy Halloween....