Real history of Halloween
October 29, 2009
From the copious amounts of candy after trick-or-treating, to annual television specials involving a “Great Pumpkin,” Halloween is celebrated numerous ways each and every year.
It’s always a good time seeing what people come up with for costumes, no matter how perfectly or terribly done. I’ve seen everything from the Power Rangers and Mario Brothers, to some gentleman wrapped in blue yarn claiming that he was Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.” Out of pure curiosity, I wanted to know the “origins” of Halloween, and how/why people have celebrated Halloween for hundreds of years in comparison how our culture chooses to celebrate it today.
First, let’s start with the actual date of Oct. 31. Why is it significant? According to the History Channel, there was a group of people called “Celts” that lived in present day Ireland, England, and France, started their new year on November 1. The celebration of the “new year” prepared the Celts for a long and dark winter, which also was believed to coincide with human death. So on the eve of this day,
Oct. 31, the Celts believed that the realms of the living and the dead were sort of merged together. They celebrated the “Samhain,” which were ghosts that would return to earth and actually help these Celtic priests predict the future as a way to hopefully comfort one another regarding the long dark months ahead. The Celts would dress up in numerous different costumes and attempt to predict/foretell each other’s futures, as well as for strictly celebratory reasons. I’m sure that history left out the part when the Celts would get a couple kegs of Beast Ice and give out prizes for best costume.
After numerous different influences from the Romans and various Christian cultures going into the 1000+ A.D. years, Oct. 31 eventually came to be known as “all hallows eve,” and eventually, just Halloween. This was because it preceded the Christian holiday of “All Saints Day,” which is a day to honor all of the saints and martyrs of the Christian faith. Nov. 2 is known as “All Souls Day,” which is actually believed to be the reason why we have our current tradition of “trick-or-treating.” During the festivities of this day in England (first accounted for), poorer citizens would beg for food from more well-off neighbors. Usually, these neighbors would give the poor “soul cakes” which were pastries given out in exchange that the poor would pray for dead relatives of the rich. Sounds like a fair trade off, I guess. When I take my nephew trick-or- treating this year, I’ll look the homeowners in the eye and say “I’m praying for your dead relatives,” I’m sure that will go over well.
It’s not Halloween unless you carve up some pumpkins, right? The question is, where the hell did that tradition come from? According to LiveScience.com, it apparently has some “legendary” roots. There was supposedly an Irish farmer who had apparently had some run-ins with the devil himself. To the farmer’s dismay, he was turned away both from the gates of heaven and hell. Forced to wander his time between earth and purgatory, he hollowed out a turnip and lit it with some coal to guide his soul along on his quest. Hearing about this man’s spirit, residents all around Ireland would make their own pumpkin carvings in hopes that they would scare the farmer’s and other evil spirits away from their homes. When I carve my pumpkins, I’m not worried about farmer Gary wanting to come by and hang out-it probably wouldn’t bother me. If he ever shows up though, now I’ll know why.
There are so many fantastic ways that we celebrate this great holiday each and every year. I think it’s pretty crazy that we carve pumpkins to scare off some crazy farmer, or even go door to door asking for candy because beggars would get a special pastry in exchange for their prayers. Be safe kids, and enjoy your Halloween shenanigans!