This is the time of year we see Our children’s excitement over choosing the most gruesome, frightening outfit. We see wonderful decorations, hoards of sweets and chocolates in exchange for those famous 3 words, “Trick or treat!!”.
The Halloween we ourselves and our families and friends celebrate today Got me thinking about the history of the festivaI and forgotten traditions, about the stories, the knowledge and beliefs that have been erased by time and why.
I found myself with a desire to explore the truth of our past in regards to this holiday, in some hopes, I guess that we may teach our children, not about games, sweets, and scary faces but about the truth behind the celebration and why this festival was so important to our ancestors that it stood the test of time, though Slightly morphed, throughout the generations.
The customs of the Halloween we see today date back centuries, however the celebration has morphed from an ancient tradition into the fright fest we know and see today.
The roots of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic end of harvest festival called Samhain. Samhain was the celebration of summers end in Ireland Scotland and the Isle of Man.
According to Celtic mythology the veil between our world and the other side thins during Samhain, making it easier for spirits and the souls of the dead to return and walk among us once more. In order to appease the spirits and departed ancestors people would make offerings of food And tokens to show their respect and for protection. The custom of wearing gruesome, scary costumes originated with the ancient Celts who used to dress their children up in order to confuse any evil spirit that had slipped the veil, making it believe that the child before it was actually one of its own Kind.
The act of trick or treating is actually a convergence of various traditions that merged through the ages. In mediaeval England “Soulers” Would go from door to door Begging the rich for soul cakes on Halloween. this would be seen as some kind of trade, Instead of playing tricks however, they would pray for peoples souls in return for the sweet treat. Irish and Scottish immigrants took souling To the states in the 1800s, however trick or treating as we know it today didn’t catch on until the 1920s. The practise of trick or treating did become quite controversial in the United states in the 50s where many adults raised stern objections to the act as it was viewed as a form of extortion.
Another Tradition in mediaeval Europe was referred to as mummering which was popular on feast days. This is where the people would dress in disguises and visit neighbours whilst dancing, play music and doing tricks.
Bobbing for apples used to be a lot more than just a fun party game. The pumpkin has become the symbol of Halloween celebrations, However Apple’s played a pivotal role in Halloween history. apples make numerous appearances in Celtic mythology and are often connected to the other world.
The practise of apple bobbing used to be considered a form of divination performed around the time of Samhain. People would dunk their heads into a cask of water and try to bite into the floating fruit to find their future spouse. Ladies would mark the apple and toss it into the water just waiting for the lucky fella to surface with their flirty fruit.
Pumpkins expertly marked with fun and intricate designs certainly make for impressive modern day decoration,, however in times gone by, Irish tradition saw the use of turnips, carved and glowing, And were given the name of Jack o’lanterns thanks to an ominous legend That saw them symbolise a fateful deal with the devil.
One night a conniving drunk named Jack trapped the devil in a tree by hacking a sign of the cross into the bark. In exchange for his freedom Jack made the devil vow never to take his soul. Jack preceded to act up his entire life, he wasn’t a good person and since Jack thought he was safe from the clutches of the devil he would make no effort to change his ways throughout his life. Inevitably Jack’s time came, but As a consequence of his behaviour, he wasn’t allowed entry to heaven. So, with nowhere left to turn, Jack turned to the devil. However, Satan upheld his end of the bargain and refused Jack entry to hell, Whilst launching a piece of coal at him for good measure.
With nowhere to go Jack placed the devils, smouldering coal into a turnip to use to light his way. Jack then set off, doomed to wander the earth for all eternity until he can find a place to rest.
The word Halloween first was popularised in a 1785 poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns titled…… wait for it……… Halloween.
Reading this fact made me think about the origins of the word? Where did it come from?… well, just like much of every Halloween tradition we see today, it is a convergence, two words Merged together With hidden religious meaning.
The word Hallow, Meaning holy person refers to the Saints honoured on All Saints day. “een” Is thought to be a contraction of eve, or the night before. So the word Halloween is just a quirky, short and way of referencing the night before All Saints day.
In the eighth century, in an effort to spread the word of Christianity, Pope Gregory III decreed November the 1st to be all saints day and incorporated some of the Samhain rituals to make the move to Christianity smoother for those holding onto their Pagan beliefs.
The arrival of Christianity meant that the holiday we would celebrate would be changed forever.
All Hallowtide, which includes all saints eve and all saints day was originally celebrated in spring during the early days of Christianity. However Pope Gregory IV switched the date to its current location on the calendar in the year 837. His reasons for the move is unclear, although influence from Celtic factions of the church and the fact that it makes sense to commemorate death in the Autumn season are all possibilities.
We are seeing more and more ‘day of the dead’ costumes and decorations referenced in pop culture, so I felt like we couldn’t finish this blog without mentioning this beautiful festival.
Dia De Los Muertos takes place from October 31st through to November 2nd in Mexico and a few other Hispanic countries.
On November 1st Dia De Los Inocentes honours and celebrates children that have passed in which family members decorate graves with babies breath and white orchids. On November 2nd Dia De Los Muertos honours and celebrates adults that have passed. One way they express this is by placing orange Marigolds on grave sites.
Originally, the Aztec celebration lasted an entire month, however when the Spanish went over to Mexico in the 16th century the celebration was Merged with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day.
The Dia De Los Muertos Festival we see celebrated today is a blend of the Aztec festival, alters to the dead, food and rituals of skulls , and the prayers and masses we see in the Catholic celebrations.
So, though the world’s festivals are now a mix of different faiths, religions and beliefs the one thing we should all strive for more of, is the knowledge of our past, to give thanks to our ancestors and honor them, if at all possible, in ways in which they would recognise. If, at least, to connect us to our beginning…. and finding the truth …
I hope you enjoyed these few Halloween facts. Happy Halloween to all. Samhain blessings to the Sisters. ❤