Superstition and magic, ghosts and mystery, ancient traditions and religious beliefs …. All this is combined in one celebration that dates back to the ancient Celtic times. It has evolved owing to the Catholic Christianity. And later on, it turned into the second most popular festivity in the USA (and in the world in recent years) thanks to the immigrants (especially, Irish people) who brought their traditions to the New World.
Of course it’s Halloween (observed on the night of October 31), All Saints Day (on November 1) and All Souls’ Day (on November 2). And where did all this start from?
The Celts: Once upon a time, let’s say, some 2000 years ago, the Celts who lived in Ireland (UK) and in the northern parts of France had a festival called Samhain. Probably, you don’t know how to pronounce the name. So, let us try this pronunciation: [sow-in]. This celebration was, actually, their New Year and they celebrated it on November 1. Thus they marked the end of the summer period and harvest and greeted the coming of winter that was always associated with cold and darkness as well as with human death. They thought that on the night of October 31 the ghosts of their dead relatives would cross the boundary between the two worlds (the earthly world and that of the dead). The Celtic superstitious nature interpreted the presence of the otherworldly spirits on Earth in a bit positive way. What I mean is that Celtic priests called Druids would make their predictions about the future more easily and those prophecies would support the Celts during the dark and long winter period of the year.
And how did they observe this festivity? The Celts dressed up in costumes, animal heads being inseparable part of them. They built a huge bonfire in which they would throw crops and animals in honour of their deities. As a matter of fact, namely light and fire lighted up their tedious and long-lasting winter days lifted up their spirit and cheered up their souls.
The Roman Empire: The ancient Romans invaded most of the Celtic lands by 43 AD which remained within the Roman Empire for four hundred years. The Romans mixed up their two festivities (Feralia – the commemoration of the dead and Pomona – the day of the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees) with Celtic Samhain.
The Christian Catholic Church: In 609 AD Pope Boniface IV declared May 13 the All Martyrs Day and “dedicated” the Pantheon in Rome to All martyrs. Later (more precisely from 731 to 741) Pope Gregory III expanded the celebration including also All Saints and moved the day from May 13 to November 1. The Church and Christianity entered also the Celtic lands and influenced greatly the ancient Celtic celebration in a way that Christian observance of November 1 blended with Celtic Samhain but in the end, the Celtic feast was supplanted by the All Souls’ Day. In 1000 AD the church-sanctioned day of the dead was celebrated in the same way, i.e. with bonfires, parades and people dressed in costumes resembling saints, angels, etc.
Thus the Christian Catholic Church would observe this feast and especially, the All Saints Day. The evening on October 31 was called “hallowed” (or the “holy evening”). I will open a bracket here. The name came from the Scottish for “All Hallows’ e’en/even” (“the evening before the “All Hallows’ Day”). And actually, All Hallows’ Day was the Mid English term for All Saints Day. Bracket closed. Step-by-step the term evolved into today’s Halloween.
The New World: The penetration of the festival was slow in the New World. In the beginning the rigid Protestant beliefs were spread out in the newly colonized lands. On the other hand, the fact that various European ethnic groups as well as American Indian traditions mixed up, lead to a celebration dedicated to harvest and charity which “laid the foundations” of today’s North American version of Halloween. Although people observed these festivals and they were common, they weren’t so popular everywhere around the continent in the 19th century.
Probably the new wave of Irish immigrants in the second half of the century managed to popularize the celebration adding elements from both Irish and English traditions and customs. Starting from a gathering of neighbours, the parties changed and turned into more common and town-wide celebrations, parties and street parades for children and adults. The festivities were based on games, seasonal foods and of course, “frightening” and “ghost” costumes. Vandalism didn’t miss but mayors managed to cope with it. Thus the American and new celebration of Halloween was born.
Life is a party and we should dance and sing and amuse ourselves. It’s inevitable. And how should we do it on Halloween? Here are some ways to do it on this day.
With apples ……. 🙂 As we said above, the Romans observed Pomona. That’s why nowadays maidens make attempts to divine their future boyfriend or husband and “cast spells” with apples (but also with yarn and even mirrors). Or children enjoy bobbing apples (which means they should catch an apple with their teeth from a tub with water and apples in it). It’s common for neighbours’ kids dressed mainly in ghost costumes to go from house to house playing tricks (or trick-or-treating). Adults prefer giving them sweets and other treats and thus they prevent themselves from any tricks being played on them. Giving out food on that dates back even to the Celtic traditions and later customs when the so-called “soul cakes” (pastries, for instance) were given to neighbours and especially to the poor and in return they promised to pray for the souls of the dead.
So, no matter from which corner of world you are, entertain yourselves on that day because there is nothing better to respect and share other peoples’ traditions and customs thus touching to their culture. 🙂 Happy Halloween. 🙂