Sunday, October 31, 2010

The History of Halloween

My husband, Gene, watched a fascinating show on The History Channel about Halloween and its origins. As he began sharing the details with me, I decided to read up on the topic myself.

As far as anyone can tell, Halloween began as a Celtic celebration called “Samhain”. In the area now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. They believed that on the eve of their new year, the boundary between the worlds of the Living and the Dead could be breached.

So, on October 31st, the Celts celebrated Samhain, to acknowledge those ghosts that had returned to the earth. It was thought that the Druids (Celtic priests) could make predictions about the future during Samhain when the otherworldly spirits were present. The Druids built huge sacred bonfires where the people gathered to sacrifice crops and animals to the Druids' lesser gods.
During the Samhain celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

After conquering most of the Celtic territory in 43 A.D., the Romans combined two of their festivals with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second festival was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

I’ll take our candy-driven holiday of Halloween over the Celtic version any old time!

Show Me Da Candy, Y’all!

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