History of Halloween
Why I Made This Page & Why Halloween is My Favorite Holiday
I began researching information for this page quite a while ago because I have always loved Halloween. Even as a kid, back when it actually spooked me out quite a bit, the whole atmosphere struck me as electric and fantastic. As I read more and more on Halloween in my attempt to create a page that would do it justice I realized that there is so much information out there on Halloween (some of which conflicts!) that it'd be nearly impossible to keep it all straight and detailed. So what I've brought you here is the best of what I've read, the most interesting highlights and the facts and theories that seem most logical to me personally. To me that seemed the best way to do it because instead of drowning you tons of information that may or may not even interest you, we keep with the air of mystery that's a huge part of Halloween.
So that's the main vision I have for this page and what I hope to achieve with it. That brings us to the question of why in the world Halloween would be my favorite holiday. To some people it seems totally crazy that anyone, especially an adult, would find Halloween to be the most fun holiday of the year. To other people who feel like me there's just no substitute for the creepy fun of this gleeful Autumn festival. For me, it's not the candy although I do devour my share of that. It's not about the costumes, either, though I love seeing what everyone chooses to dress up as and sometimes dress up myself when I have the opportunity.
The primary reason I love Halloween best is atmosphere. We finally get a chance to celebrate the spooky side of life! Bats, goblins, ghosts, vampires and all the traditional elements of Halloween that put us in the mood for a night of fright and laughter. On Halloween, you can be anything or anyone your heart desires and it's all in good fun. The little kids get to go trick-or-treating, collecting bulging sacks of sweets and the adults have full permission to throw a party and act as crazy as they like. What could be better? Besides, as awesome as Christmas is, Halloween ends up being a lot cheaper, doesn't it?
The Many Names of Halloween
One of the things I found fascinating about Halloween is how many names it has now and has had down through its history. For starters, there's the alternative spelling which is: Hallowe'en. Odd, but rather interesting looking. There's All Hallows Eve, All Saints' Eve and the ever popular Samhain (pronounced as sa-ven or sow-in).
In Ireland, they call the celebration Oiche Shamhna which translates to Night of Samhain. In other parts of Ireland, it's called Pooky Night, believed to be a reference to mischievous spirits called puca.
Among the Cornish, an ethnic group of Britain said to be related to the Celts, the night is known as Allantide.
To the Manx, the residents of the Isle of Man which lies in the Irish Sea at the center of the British Isles, the festival goes by the name of Hop-tu-Naa.
In Scottish Gaelic, the night's closer to Samhain or Samhainn.
Among the Welsh Halloween is known as Calan Gaeaf.
In Mexico and certain parts of the United States with heavy Mexican-American populations, Halloween is often merged with the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in a three day affair that stretches from October 31st to November 2nd.
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Where Halloween Came From
One thing we can be nearly certain of and that is that Halloween as we know it originated in Europe. Some assert that it's a Northern European custom tying into the Nordic beliefs, but they are far outnumbered by those who tie Halloween's roots back to pre-Christian Celtic tradition.
It's worth mentioning the Norse religious connection, I feel, because I enjoy learning rarely discussed or minority theories. In the old Nordic religions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden there occurred an event approximately the same time as Samhain called alfablot or elven blot. During this observance, the participants made sacrifices (most likely of animals, but also perhaps typical food items) to the elves, an important part of the Old Norse spiritual system that tied in with their gods and ancestors. Even today, those who practice the revival religion known as Asatru sometimes celebrate alfablot.
The majority opinion remains, that Halloween is derived directly from the Celts practicing Shamhain just as they did prior to the Roman invasion of their lands and the Christianization that followed it. Most likely (since they did not yet have our modern calendars) they kept track of time using the phases of the moon, so back then their celebrations may not have fallen on exactly the same day each year. Basically they were celebrating the end of summer with accompanying harvest and slaughter of fattened animals to be preserved for food to last through the rougher winter months.
The spiritual connection comes from the fact that the Celtic people relied heavily on their Druidic priest and priestesses to predict how much food they would need to keep everyone alive from year to year. A key part of the prediction process appears to have involved the opening of burial mounds on both Samhain and Beltane (the Celtic celebration of spring's arrival) in order to allow the spirits of the ancestors to help share their wisdom with the living.
As you might suspect, though, not only the good, helpful spirits were expected to return to Earth during this time. The likelihood that evil or malicious spirits would also come back to haunt the lands was equally high. For this reason the people built bonfires to ward off the evil spirits and protect their communities.
Once the Celts came into contact with Roman civilization things began to change for them and their ritual holidays. Pope Gregory IV moved the feast of All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows' Day) from April 20th to November 1st in 835 AD, most likely in an attempt to co-opt the celebration of Samhain and overlay it Christian ideals more agreeable to the Church. During the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, the Celts were pushed to the far reaches of England and as a result, Samhain went with them, thus not having much prominence among the English until its American-influenced revival in the 1980s.
In the United States and Canada, before the 1800's many holidays, Halloween and Christmas included, were frowned upon due to the rigorous beliefs of the Puritans who influenced early settlers. It wouldn't be until 1845 that the Irish Potato Famine struck, leading two million Irish across the Atlantic ocean to the hope of a better life in America. With them they brought their Hallowe'en, as did the Scottish, and so the holiday began to take hold in the New World.
By the 20th Century Halloween had become commercialized, even included on calendars. The popularity has steadily risen until today it is the sixth most profitable holiday for retailers, following right behind Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter and Father's Day. It's celebrated globally now and I'd say that's not too shabby for an ancient end of summer bonfire celebration!
Books for a Deeper Look Into Halloween
Halloween Traditions from Around the World
There are such a vast array of Halloween traditions globally that it'll be next to impossible for me to list them all but I'm certainly going to give it a shot. Here are some of the more fun ones that I've found so far:
In Mexico Halloween is of course combined with Dia de los Muertos and is not at all a long-established tradition. However, in the larger urban areas kids are beginning to trick-or-treat and themed costume parties are being organized for the older crowd.
In Australia and New Zealand, things play out differently because those countries are in the Southern Hemisphere and thus not experiencing the same seasonal conditions that accompany a Northern Hemisphere Halloween. Traditionally, due to the influence of American media, horror movies and TV shows with spooky themes tend to be aired on Halloween night. In Australia, trick-or-treating tends to be carefully organized by neighbors and taking candy from strangers is definitely frowned upon. Some Australians don't approve of the entire celebration, viewing it as an unwelcome foreign cultural import.
In the Carribbean, while not widespread, some parts of the British West Indies celebrate a British holiday close to Halloween called Guy Fawkes Night. Typically they light off firecrackers and blow bamboo joints during this time. On the island of Bonaire do trick-or-treat, except that they go from shop to shop instead of house to house.
In Ireland and Scotland, trick-or-treating is referred to as guising, as in to disguise one's self. In Scotland, instead of saying trick or treat! the children recite a short rhyme that goes, The sky is blue, the grass is green, may we have our Halloween.
In America, unmarried women used to be told that if they sat in a room by themselves with the lights out and held a mirror they'd see the face of the man they were to marry. If they were to be single their whole lives then they would instead catch a glimpse of a skull.
In Ireland people play a game named Puicini, a form of divination. Saucers are placed on a table and shuffled. Different things are placed on the saucer and each item has symbolic value. Examples include: dirt - meaning someone will die within the year, a ring - marriage is emminent, water - telling of a move across seas, a coin - symbolizing riches to come, etc. Then a person is seated at the table and blindfolded. They choose a saucer by touch alone and that is their fortune for that year.
In some parts of the world, a syrup-covered scone (a pastry) is hung from the ceiling using string. Then blindfolded participants are encouraged to try to eat the treat without being able to use their hands!
What in the United States is referred to as bobbing for apples, comes originally from Scotland where it was known as dookin. Today, due to hygiene concerns, some events have party-goers hold a fork in their mouths and attempt to stab the apple with the fork.
I hope you've enjoyed my History of Halloween Hubpage and that it's perhaps enlightened you to a few things you might not have known about this amazing holiday's roots. I had such fun writing it that it's almost sad to bring it to an end, but have no fear! I plan to bring out a few more Halloween pages as I learn more because for me, Halloween doesn't have to be celebrated on October 31st only - you can celebrate in small ways all year long!
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