Halloween - What is it about? Where did it come from? Why do we celebrate it? When did it start? Who is involved?
'Trick or treat' was considered, for many, to be a great way for kids to have fun, a sort of holiday for children for many decades. However, in modern society there are just as many adults enjoying the festive fun of dressing up in scary costumes, the parties that come with it, horror movies and all the fun associated with this day.
It does seem a little strange that such a day has evolved in christian societies that would normally shun such things as sins. A focus on fear, darkness, monsters, cults and violence, and we expose out children to it!
But surely, Halloween isn't bad. How can it be if millions of people celebrate it all over the world? So lets take a look at what it is all about ...
What traditional monster do you think is the most scariest?
Where did it come from?
There have been many historians that actually have looked into the origins of Halloween. I will include the most common theory here:
Halloween is very much linked to religion as most holidays are. Alot of pagan festivals and celebrations were took on by Christians to ensure the integration of these populations into the roman way was made that much more simple and nonthreatening (I have heard theories that Jesus was born more towards Easter time, when the north star would be in the correct place, instead of December. December the 25th was actually a Egyptian festival celebrating a god that the Christians hijacked.Although I am not saying this is fact, I am just pointing out there are alot of theories behind what we think is history, especially history where records are thin on the ground.)
A big reason early religion did this was to make sure that new members to the religion could be integrated into their fold alot easier. Their journey from backward pagan to enlightened Christian would be simple and easier to achieve.
Halloween was another pagan festival hijacked by Christians. Halloween originally dates back thousands of years to the ancient Celts, with the festival of Samhain. This was celebrated on their new year on the 1st of November. This marked the end of summer harvest and the beginning of winter.
Their sun god, Muck Olla, was losing his strength. This was explained with the fact that the leaves were falling from the trees and days were getting shorter. The night believed that spirits and demons were at the peak of their power the night before their new year, and this was the time that ghosts of the dead walked the earth again, using the power of these spirits and demons.
If a person dressed up in hideous costumes, making horrible noises they might succeed in scaring away these evil spirits. The Druid priests would lead villagers in ceremonies where sacred bonfires were lit. Sacrifices were made to appease demons, even human sacrifices. And it is said they left wine or other valuables outside their homes so that the evil spirits would not 'trick' or curse them on their way through the waking world.
You must remember though, that these practices happened so long ago that the only way we know about them is by word of mouth and then priests writing it down thousands of years later. Stories do get exaggerated over time but it makes for a fascinating read anyway.
Where does Christianity come into this story?
The Roman empire stretched across most of Europe and was the most powerful empire of its time. One thing that made the Romans so successful was their ability to adapt and/or adopt traditions of other cultures.
England was apart of this mighty empire, it was also one of the few remaining strongholds to the Celts (Scotland and Ireland were Celt strongholds the Romans didn't subdue). Once England was conquered the Celt traditions from this part of the world were also integrated into the Roman way of life. This was an easy ask as other Celts from around Europe were already part of the empire and so alot of these traditions were all ready apart of Roman life.
The Catholic Church was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire to stop the rot and slow decline of a huge empire. The thinking behind it was that a single religion would be better to control the masses instead of the worship of hundreds of different gods. However, many of the practices from these pagan festivals were incorporated into Christianity to make it more appealing to the masses.
Pope Boniface IV replaced the Celtic festival of Samhain with similar but holier day. All saints day was invented, where people could take the time to honor saints and martyrs.
All saints day, or Alholowmesse in old English, was designated a celebration in the Christian calender. The night before (the night of Samhain) was called All-Hallows Eve, eventually this changed to Halloween.
The Catholic church even set up a day called 'All souls Day. This was to honour the dead and was celebrated much like Sambain with bonfires and parades. People even dressed up in costumes of saints, angels and even devils. The three celebrations of all saints eve, all saints and all souls day were combined and called Hallowmas.
Since Catholics believed the departed were in a state of limbo between worlds. Their souls would go from house to house, and the only way to get rid of these spirits is to offer them gifts. These gifts were in the form of soul cakes. The more collected meant the more prayers the soul received. This was based largely on superstition than anything told in the bible, and yet it was taken on without any worry, probably because of how similar the celebration was to what was already in place years before.
What does it mean today?
In the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom Halloween is pure secular fun with no deep meaning now.
However, in other Christian countries like many parts of Europe, South America and Mexico, a modern-day version of Samhain takes place. It is very much a time to honour their ancestors.
English folklore had stories associated with mysterious flickering of lights sometimes seen at night over wetlands. This natural phenomenon, known as 'will o' the wisp' was blamed on fairies or ghosts playing pranks on travelers.
A night watchman was also named 'Jack-o-lantern' in 17th century England. This term is also the nickname for the lights that played tricks on travellers.
Over time 'jack-o-lantern' became a popular name for the turnip lantern used by children of the day who wanted to frighten travellers on the roads around their village.
Catholic children adopted this device to go door-to-door to represent the souls of the dead while begging for soul cakes during Hallowmas. It was thought that the most scrupulous of children would ask for a treat in order to stop the tricks from the dead.