Halloween-time is my favorite time of the year. Admittedly, I’m more in love with the harvest look that shakes the trees, the colder weather, and the infamous PSL, but I also relish the spooky-murky-creepiness of the only holiday that fits my love of X-Files, Harry Potter, and Tim Burton all into one day.
But besides making the mortuary a “cool” place to work for a month, this holiday is also the only one that actively recognized the dead in its celebration.
Do you know anything about the origins of Halloween?
Well, let me take you on a brief journey through this history of how Halloween came to be.
This “hallowed” or “holy” evening is owed to the Celts, the specifics of which are due in some parts it seems to the pagans and others to their Christian roots – it all seems debatable but, it did start over 500 years ago.
The Pagans: Originally referred to as “Samhain,” this holiday marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year – a time when people believed that spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world. Desiring the fairy blessing on crops, people would leave out food and drink for them (sound a bit like Santa Claus to anyone else?). They also thought that the souls of the dead would visit their former homes on this night. Families would set places for them at dinner and candles would be lit to help guide the spirits home. After the eating and drinking that people would go “guising” (wearing costumes) to either avoid the fairy spirits, or to dress like the souls of their dearly departed.
The Christians: Halloween, as we know it, is the first of the three “Hallowmas” holidays with All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on the 2nd. Halloween comes from the term “Hallow even” where “even” is short for “evening” and somewhere along the line it got shortened to just Halloween.
The tradition of Trick-or-Treating seems to come from the practice of Christians baking “soul cakes” and distributing them to the poor (usually children) that came to their doors as a means of praying for the souls in purgatory. “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities” (Prince Sorie Conteh).
Here’s my favorite Halloween tale, it’s about Jack and his lantern:
“On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree.
A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.”
UGH – Creepy right??
Ok, so there you have it, the super-short history of how Halloween came to be.
If you keep reading the Wikipedia page (where I got much of this), you’ll see that in Ireland they carved turnips until they discovered the pumpkin in North America. Turnips!
The True Meaning of Christma . . . I mean, Halloween:
– Make things right. While we wear costumes for fun today instead of to ward off vengeful spirits, it’s still a good reminder to be at peace with your friends and family. To say what you’ve been meaning to, to hug the ones who matter, and to hand a snickers bar to that special someone.
– Remember the dead. Whether that is carving a pumpkin in honor of them, lighting a candle, or even dressing like one of your loved one’s heroes. There are a lot of ways to remember them and in the midst of the hype to host parties and hand out good candy, it can be helpful to relax and just remember the origins and purpose of this day: to remember the souls we’ve lost.
So light a candle in memory of the person or pet you’ve lost and give candy to others with sweet word and good wishes on your lips.
Do so, and have a . . .
You can answer these questions or share your thoughts on the blog: