Ok, anybody who knows me understands that I am not particularly big on traditions, holidays, birthdays, and the like. Halloween is no different, though I will admit to hating it much less than Christmas and Easter.
As a hater of the holidays, it is my duty to inform the world of its origins, and trash the holiday if at all possible on my blog. So here we go.
It is generally accepted by historians that Halloween dates back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, meaning the end of summer). For the Celts, October 31 was actually New Year’s Eve, the end of summer and coming of long nights and very cold days. People tended to die more often during these cold months, and this day it was thought that the lines between the living and the dead became blurred.
Furthermore, the prophetic powers of a Druid became more powerful on this day, resulting in more accurate predictions of what was to come. Druids would often build huge bonfires where Celts could sacrifice animals and crops to their gods. Celts would also wear costumes, typically made from the heads of animals.
Then along came the Romans.
The Romans just so happened to have a celebration that nearly coincided with Samhain called Feralia, a commemoration of those who had died. When the Romans conquered the Celtic lands, Feralia and Samhain occurred so near to each other that they couldn’t help but incorporate each others traditions.
And of course, what would any holiday be without the corruption of Christianity? As usual, the Catholic Church attempted to gain converts by absorbing the traditions of heathens.
By the late 1st century, the Pope had declared November 1 All Saint’s Day in commemoration of saints and martyrs (ie: dead people). The Middle English term for All Saint’s Day was Alholowmesse, and so Christians often referred to Saint’s Day as All-hallowmas. Thus, October 31 became All-hallows Eve. Can you see where this is going?
So how did Halloween become what it is today? Most of the traditions come from the area in which it originated: Ireland. As I mentioned in a previous post regarding St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish have a tendency to exaggerate their stories, and I believe that the tendency to exaggerate also tends to result in changing traditions from generation to generation.
The Irish managed to twist Samhain into a celebration of dressing up and going door to door to collect treats. The costumes protect you from the dead, who cross over on this night.
Traditions also tend to incorporate traditions of the cultures they come into. By the time Halloween made its way to America, we were incorporating stories of witches and warlocks, scaring away evil spirits with scary costumes, and so forth.
The pumpkin is has always been a symbol of the harvest season in America, and it somehow got integrated into Halloween. There is also a legend of a man named Jack who tricked the Devil into keeping him out of Hell.
When Jack died the Devil, true to his word, refused to let Jack into Hell. Thus Jack carved out a turnip to use as a candle holder for light and left to wander the earth. He is known as “Jack of the Lantern”.
As a young boy, I was told the story of pilgrims that carved out a scary face into a pumpkin. At night they placed a candle in the pumpkin. This was used as a method to scare off Native Americans that were stealing from them. The Native Americans, believing it was a ghost, never returned. Whether that story has any validity at all is unknown to me.
In some parts of England there is a festival on November 4, called Mischief Night, in which children play tricks on adults. Thus the “trick” in “trick or treat”. Essentially, give me a treat or I’ll play a very bad trick on you!
Sadly, Halloween in America today has nearly become a sex fest, with costumes becoming more revealing and taking on a sexual tone (which can get pretty scary when the wrong body wears the wrong costume (or lack thereof)) as adults more and more celebrate with wild Halloween parties.
It becomes increasingly more difficult to find costumes that are “decent.” Hey, I like scantily clad women as much as the next guy, but Halloween is supposed to be a celebration for the kids. What sane parent is going to sex up their 10-year-old daughter? Just another sign of the times I suppose.
Now if you think I’m bad, check out this article by Kim Harrington, who seems to hate Halloween far more than I.