Thursday, April 10, 2014

The History of Halloween by Chad Stambaugh

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be interesting to research on the history of Halloween and its origins, as well as popular celebrations. The name HALLOWEEN is the shortened form of All-hallow-even, because it is celebrated on the evening before All Hallows Day or All Saints’ Day, which is a religious festivity. However, the origins of Halloween have nothing to do with Christianity.

Halloween first was celebrated by the Celts, who lived around 2,000 years ago in northern France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was not known by this name, however. The Celts celebrated their new year on November the 1st. According to their beliefs, this date marked the end of summer and the beginning of the long, hard winter. On the eve before the New Year, they thought that the boundaries between the living and the dead intertwined and this enabled the dead to make themselves known to the living. On that night, they would dress up in costumes consisting of animal heads and skins and built bonfires where they attempted to predict their futures, as fortune telling on this night was easier because of the presence of the dead amongst them. The festival was called Sahmain. They would light a huge sacred bonfire which symbolized protection from the coming winter. After extinguishing it, they would take some coals to relight their hearth fires, thus culminating their celebration.

After the Romans had conquered Celtic territory in 43AD, they incorporated two more festivals into the celebration. The first one, known as Feralia, was celebrated a day in late October to commemorate the passing of the dead. The second one celebrated the goddess Pomona (goddess of fruit and trees) and this is probably where bobbing for apples originated from.

How did Halloween get its name then? With the coming of Christianity, and in the attempt to eradicate Pagan beliefs and celebrations, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. The name Hallows, means Souls, or Sacred, and Een, short for Eve, and we have the name, “Halloween”. Furthermore, to confirm and reinforce Christianity, November 2nd was turned into a celebration of the Day of the Dead. Indeed, the Mass carried out on October 31st was called Hallowmas, and the celebrations of the three days had people dressing up as angels, devils and saints, and lighting up bonfires as well, just as the Celts had done thousands of years before.

According to many European cultural traditions, Halloween is a night when the dead are more likely to interact with the living and a night when magic is more powerful. This gave way to tales of witches meeting on this night and consorting with the devil.

Today, Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world. In Ireland, adults and children alike dress up in costumes of ghosts, witches, ghouls, demons and vampires among others. In Scotland, Halloween is mixed with their belief in fairies, and children often carry a around a ‘Neepy Candle’ a devil face carved into a hollowed out Neep, or yellow turnip, which is lit from the inside, in order to frighten away the evil faeries. In the UK, pumpkin carving is widely practiced and children and adults enjoy carving out scary faces on pumpkins. In Germany, traditional Halloween decorations are becoming popular as part of fall decorations, and witches and jack-o-lanterns are frequently seen.

Halloween celebrations in the United States did not start until the 19th century, perhaps due to a strict puritan observance that lasted till the 1800’s. The most popular time for Halloween in the States, therefore, was between 1905 and 1915, when some companies began making Halloween cut outs for decorations. Trick or treating did not become popular till 1950, and Halloween costumes only started appearing in stores in the 30’s! However, nowadays, the most popular Halloween costumes are witch, pirate, vampire, cat and clown, in that order!

Whether you go on a haunted ghost tour, which are extremely popular, visit a cemetery or just dress up in a spooky costume to open the door for trick-or-treaters, Halloween is a cheerful festivity that will continue to excite and enthrall us for many more years to come.

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