Halloween origins


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Posted Thursday, October 30, 2008 - 12:00am

Why do so many people like the Halloween holiday? It's probably because everyone gets to dress in costumes and act like little kids again, right? That's why I like it. With Halloween right around the corner, do you ever wonder where this eerie holiday came from?

The website new-life.net states, "Our modern celebration of Halloween is a distant descendant of the ancient Celtic fire festival called Samhain." The Celts celebrated their new year on the first of November. Why this day? It was considered to mark the end of summer and harvest, bringing in the dark, cold winter. Winter was a time of death for them because they didn't have the resources to keep warm. "Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred ... On the night of October 31, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to the Earth," states History.com.

The Celts thought that, during the time the dead were present on Earth, they could predict the future. So they wore costumes, usually of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's futures.

After the Romans conquered the Celts, in 43 A.D., the festival of Samhain was combined with two Roman festivals. "The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona, an apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween," according to History.com.

When Christianity came into the picture in the 800s, Pope Boniface IV assigned November 1 to be All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. Many thought that the Pope did this in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. It was also called "All-hallows" or "All-hallowmas" and that would make the night before, the night of Samhain, "All-hallows Eve."

Why do we go "trickor-treating," then? That tradition dates back to the All Souls' Day parades in England. "At various times and places in the Middle Ages, customs of beggars, then children, asking for 'soul cakes' on All Souls Day," says Neopagen.net. The giving out of soul cake was encouraged by the church back then, as a way to replace the older practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits.

What is the reason for costumes? The people were afraid that with all the spirits roaming about, they might turn on them and scare them, said History.com. So, in order to keep the spirits at bay, the people would wear scary masks so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. Also, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts ... and to try and keep them out.

Where do Jack-o-lanterns come from? "According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks.

"Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

"The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until he promised to not bother Jack for 10 more years.

"Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow him into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since," according to History.com.

There are many other stories to be told of Halloween and you should research them yourself. But, for now, have a Happy Halloween and be safe. Don't forget to watch for the spirits that roam the night.

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