Halloween is debated over whether it's a holiday or not. For those who say they are pagan, it is. But for those the government deems as a holiday (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc..) they say not. It doesn't matter, for I've loved Halloween as my favorite time of the year ever since I was a small child, with Christmas coming in second amd Thanksgiving, third. Let's discuss what Halloween is all About.
Halloween, or the Hallow E'en as they call it in Ireland , means All Hallows Eve, or the night before the 'All Hallows', also called 'All Hallowmas', or 'All Saints', or 'All Souls' Day, observed on November 1. In old English the word 'Hallow' meant 'sanctify'.
The American version of Halloween Day celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) Druidic fire festival called "Samhain", celebrated by the Celts in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Samhain is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with cow. In Ireland the festival was known as Samhein, or La Samon, the Feast of the Sun. In Scotland, the celebration was known as Hallowe'en. In Welsh it's Nos Galen-gaeof (that is, the Night of the Winter Calends. According to the Irish English dictionary published by the Irish Texts Society: "Samhain, All Hallowtide, the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, signalizing the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops (esp. the Fiann) were quartered. Faeries were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it the half year is reckoned. also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess). The Scottish Gaelis Dictionary defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Soula. Sam + Fuin = end of summer." Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such. Thus most of the customs connected with the Day are remnants of the ancient religious beliefs and rituals, first of the Druids and then transcended amongst the Roman Christians who conquered them.Something funny is that American teens and pre-teens seem to have instinctively expanded their seasonal celebrations to add another night before Halloween, one on which they commit various acts of harmless (or unfortunately not) vandalism, including pranks on neighbors. If we assume that All Saints Day was moved to co-opt the central day of Samhain which was associated originally with the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts, and All Souls Day was supposed to co-opt the worship of the Ancestors, then the modern “Cabbage Night,” “Hell Night” (boy does that push the Fundamentalists’ buttons!), or simply “Mischief Night” (which used to be April 30th — the night before May Day — in Germany — there’s that Beltane/Samhain connection again) would correspond to a celebration of the often mischievous Nature Spirits. This then nicely covers the Indo-European pattern of the “Three Kindreds” of Deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.
A part of Halloween in America is trick or treat, began fairly recently, as a blend of several ancient and modern influences-around 1939, as that is when the term was first documented. It all was done to stop all the vandalism and expensive destruction from neighborhood kids.This also hails back to people dressing up in medieval times, for if they went out on All Hallows Eve they wanted to be mistaken as spirits and demons by the real ones that they believed haunted that night. Children today come up to your doorbell, and ring it, or knock at your door, then yell out, "Trick or Treat!", where then you give them candy for their bags. it used to be if you didn't these children would then toilet paper your yard or house, or do other mischievious things like getting your cow on the roof of the barn, etc...
Here's a version of 'Trick or Treat' as said in Ireland long ago:
‘Anocht Oidhche Shamhna, a Mhongo Mango. Sop is na fuinneogaibh; dúntar na díirse. Eirigh id’ shuidhe, a bhean an tighe. Téirigh siar go banamhail, tar aniar go flaitheamhail. Tabhair leat ceapaire aráin agus ime ar dhath do leacain fhéin; a mbeidh léim ghirrfiadh dhe aoirde ann ages ciscéim choiligh dhe im air. Tabhair chugham peigín de bhainne righin, mín, milis a mbeidh leawhnach ’n-a chosa agus uachtar ’n-a mhullaigh; go mbeidh sé ag imtheacht ’n-a chnocaibh agus ag teacht Ôn-a shléibhtibh, agus badh ó leat go dtachtfadh sé mé, agus mo chreach fhada níor bhaoghal dom.’‘
(“Oh Mongo Mango, Hallow E’en tonight. Straw in the windows and close the doors. Rise up housewife, go inside womanly, return hospitably, bring with you a slice of bread and butter the colour of your own cheek, as high as a hare’s jump with a cock’s step of butter on it. Bring us a measure of thick fine sweet milk, with new milk below and cream above, coming in hills and going in mountains; you may think it would choke me, but, alas! I am in no danger.”)’
And what about the symbols of Halloween?
Ghosts have always made perfect sense, for Samhain was the festival where the Gates Between the Worlds were open wide and departed friends and family could cross over in either direction. As I mentioned earlier, people invited their ancestors to join them in celebration. The only ones who would cower in fear would be people who had wronged someone dead and who therefore feared retribution of some sort. The often repeated tale that the dead roamed the earth after dying until the next Samhain, when they could then pass over to the afterlife, makes no sense in either Celtic Paleopagan or Medieval Christian beliefs, so is probably fairly modern. It is possible that any “earth-bound” spirits needing assistance to pass over might have received it at this time, but this wouldn’t have been considered necessary for most of the dead.
Samhain was the time of year when the herds were culled. That means that farmers and herders killed the old, sick or weak animals, as well as others they didn’t think would make it through the winter with that year’s available food. Prior to the last few centuries in the West, most people lived with death as a common part of life, especially since most of them lived on farms. Samhain became imbued with symbolism of these annual deaths. So skeletons and skulls joined the ghosts as symbols of the holiday. Again, there’s nothing evil here, at least to the innocent in heart. Indeed, in Mexico, where the holiday is known as Los dias de los Muertos,or “Days of the Dead,” (combining All Saints Day with All Souls Day) skeleton and skull toys and even candies are made and enjoyed by the millions, many by and for devout Roman Catholics.Medieval Christians feared cats, for reasons as yet unclear, and especially feared black cats who could sneak “invisibly” around at night. It’s ironic that they feared cats so much that they killed tens of thousands of them, leaving their granaries open to rats and mice, no doubt causing much food to be wasted, and leaving Europe as a whole wide open to the Black Plague, which was carried by the fleas on those rats and mice. Unfortunately, the millions of human deaths caused by the Black Plague were later blamed on witches the Church invented, then murdered. Cats, as “evil” animals, then became associated with the “evil” witches.
Witches as figures of pure evil were invented by the medieval Church and inflated by the Catholic and Protestant Churches during the Reformation period. Paleopagan witches were people suspected by their neighbors of using magic or poison to harm others, though the term was sometimes used to insult or accuse the “cunning folk” (who were herbalists, diviners, and folk magicians) of committing malpractice. As the Church tried harder and harder to make people abandon their Paleopagan customs for the new Christian ones, Samhain became a prime target. The Church began to say that demons were abroad with the dead, and that the fairy folk were all monsters who would kill the unwary. When Diabolic Witchcraft was invented, the “Evil Devil-Worshipping Witch” simply became the newest monster to add to the others. The green skin was a twentieth century touch the Wizard of Oz movie added to the “evil old hag” version of the Diabolic Witch.
Halloween became a holiday in modern times for which half the fun was being scared out of one’s wits. Modern fiction added new monsters to the American mix, including vampires (previously known mostly in Eastern Europe), werewolves, mummies (after modern Egyptology started), and various psychopathic killers and ghouls. These are not images anyone actually needs to perpetuate, but the teens certainly enjoy them.
Jack O’Lanterns became popular as house decorations in the USA after immigrant Irish people discovered how much easier pumpkins were to carve than turnips, potatoes, and beets, unleashing what has turned into quite an art form in the last decade or so. These lanterns the irish made though represented the souls of the departed loved ones. Placed in windows or set on porches, they not only welcomed the deceased, but protected those within from malevolent wraiths.
The legend of the Jack-O'-Lantern comes from Ireland from about the 18th century. With some variations the basis of the Jack-O'-Lantern is as follows:
There was a stingy drunkard of an Irishman named Jack; who tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree. Then Jack quickly cut the sign of a cross into the trunk of the tree; thereby preventing the Devil from climbing down. Jack made the Devil swear that he wouldn't ever come after Jack's soul again or claim it in any way. However, this did not stop Jack from dying and when he did he was not allowed into Heaven, because of his life of drinking, being tightfisted and being deceitful. And because of the oath the Devil had taken Jack was not allowed into Hell either. "But where can I go?" asked Jack. "Back where you came from!" replied the Devil. The way back was windy and dark. The Devil, as a final gesture, threw a live coal at Jack straight from the fire of Hell. To light his way and to keep it from blowing out in the wind Jack put it in a turnip he was eating. Ever since Jack and his "lantern" has been traveling over the face of the earth looking for a place to rest.
So in couple weeks when you answer that doorbell, be careful, for you never know. It may be something more then a costumed child with a bag half-filled with goodies. Be sure your jack-o-lantern is lit to protect you against dark spirits. Is there a cross within reach, just in case? But then again, I may be tricking you. After all, it is Halloween.