Thursday, October 31, 2013
Today is the one day of the year when the young and not-so-young get to let their true faces show during the only time it’s acceptable to be seen in costume and masks. Once again, it’s Halloween, or more accurately, Samhain (pronounced SOW-IN), which means summer’s end and is celebrated at the end of fall and beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It was a final celebration of the harvest before the earth slumbered through winter. The day also marked the Celts’ version of the New Year and the time when they believed the dead came back to walk the earth once more. The holiday has been with us for centuries in various forms.
The day was a time to honor ancestors, but also ward off evil spirits by wearing costumes to confuse them. Turnips were carved with faces and placed in the windows to scare off the dead. People would go “a-souling.” They would pray for the household’s dead relatives in exchange for food and drink. In Scotland, the dead were impersonated by men who would wear all white and cover their faces with a veil.
Halloween as we know it today can be traced back to the early Christians. In the 800s, the Catholic Church wanted to wipe out pagan holidays and convert the heathens, so they would create a holy day to coincide with an established pagan festival. The Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona’s Day were merged with Samhain and the new holiday replaced all three. Pomona’s day was a harvest festival in honor of the Roman Goddess of fruits and trees. This could explain where the tradition of bobbing for apples came from. Feralia was a day of mourning and remembering the dead.
Early Christians began celebrating All Saints Day on Nov. 1. They began their observance at sunset the night before. Some of the ways they celebrated were to dress in costumes of Christian saints to scare away the evil spirits and then they would go door-to-door, begging for food. Eventually, All Souls’ Day, which commemorated the dead who were not saints was added on Nov. 2. Soul cakes (currant buns) were given out when those celebrating went from house to house, offering to pray for their dead, similar to the a-souling.
Less than a century later, those two early Christian holidays merged into Hallow Time (Oct. 31-Nov. 2). Most of the celebrations took place the night before All Hallows Day on All Hallows Eve. Halloween quickly became the name.
Today, the holiday has grown so popular, it is second only to Christmas in the amount of money spent on decorations. Many Christian churches discourage their members from celebrating, saying it is evil; however, simply reading up on the history tells a different story.