What is the History of Halloween? A Spooky Subject
It is that time of year again. When children and some adults dress up in costume and roam about collecting candy from celebrants. How did this all come to be? What is the history of Halloween? What was the original meaning of Halloween?
As we prepare to decorate our homes and dress up in fun costumes to celebrate this spooky holiday we ask ourselves. Why do we celebrate Halloween? Why the costumes and Jack-o-Lanterns? There is always a great folk tradition behind these types of festivals. Since we here at Lore Play Corner love a good folk tale or story we had to investigate.
What is the Meaning of Halloween?
The word itself is simple to find the meaning of. It is merely a contraction of Hallows Evening. Also called Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, and All Saints Eve. The word simply means All Hallows Evening.
What is this? Celebrated in a number of countries around the world on October 31. It is the beginning of a three day observance of Allhallowtide. A time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead including saints, martyrs and loved ones.
What is the Origin of Halloween
It is widely believed that the holiday originated from the ancient Celtic harvest festivals. Particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain. Originally with pagan roots to the meanings of the celebrations. Samhain was Christianized as Halloween by the early church. Rather than forcing a complete new belief system on the local pagan populations. Instead they created a holiday celebrating the Christian Saints and harvest.
The holiday was influenced by folk customs. As the 1st and most important quarter day of the year. It was originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The halfway point between the equinox and the solstice it became celebrated in Britain, Wales and Cornwall as Calan Gaeaf or Kalan Gwav.
Halloween marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Or the darker half of the year. Where it’s opposite Beltane and Calan Mai marked the beginning of Spring. Halfway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. It is believed to be a liminal time. When the boundary between our world and the Otherworld of the dead is thinned. Allowing spirits to pass through more easily.
As we respected and feared the Aos Si or spirits. We began by offering food and drink as symbols of a portion of our crops. Either outdoors as an offering or in our homes as extra places at our tables and hearth. We welcomed spirits of our ancestors to return to the places they once lived and join us in celebration.
Often candles would be lit and prayers said for the deceased. Candles were lit as a way of guiding the spirits to the homes and places they once lived. They were called soul lights. It is possible that the Jack-o-Lantern is not only a representation of the spirits but also a form of soul light. It could also be noted that one of the original forms of pranking a person who did not offer food was to carve grotesque or horrific faces out of turnips and other root vegetables. So the Jack-o-Lantern could be a mixture of the two traditions. Depending on your belief system there are a few ways to celebrate this most spooky of holidays.
- Churches often celebrate by decorating with relics of the saints. In the Middle Ages when churches could not afford relics they allowed their parishioners to dress up as the saints instead.
- Church Services
- Lighting candles on the graves of the dead
- Abstaining from meat by eating vegetarian dishes such as
- Potato Pancakes
- Soul Cakes- A type of small round cake baked with sweet seasonings such as Allspice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Ginger then marked with a cross on top.
- Rituals and games intended to tell one’s fortune. Especially regarding marriage and death.
- Apples and nuts are often used in divination. So activity included:
- Apple Bobbing
- Nut Roasting
- Mirror gazing
- Dream Interpretation
- Pouring Molten Lead or Egg White into Water
- Sacred bonfires lit. The ashes of which were used to mark the pace for protection and cleansing.
More Modern Versions
- Trick Or Treating
- Attending Costume parties
- Carving pumpkins
- Lighting Bonfires
- Apple Bobbing
- Divination Games
- Playing pranks
- Visiting Haunted Attractions
- Watching Scary Movies
- Telling Scary Stories
A Scary Tradition
Over the years the ways in which we celebrate this most spooky of holidays has changed somewhat. What remains the same however is our deep seeded drive to be scared and celebrate the dead. For some reason human nature loves to be frightened. Even just a little bit. We crave the rush of adrenaline that comes with fear. The horror movie industry has raked in millions over the years thanks to this fact. Each year more and more people decorate their homes with Halloween decor. It is close to Christmas in the amount of decorating done. Close to Valentine’s day in candy consumed. We love Halloween. What is your favorite tradition? How do you celebrate Halloween? Please comment below.