Friday, October 22, 2010

The History of Halloween Traditions

Halloween is a fun time of year. Beautiful autumn leaves are falling, the air is crisp with the warm scents of cinnamon and spice, and the silvery hints of winter yet to come are hanging in the atmosphere. It's a time for cider and candied apples, parties and ghost stories, costumes and of course, carving pumpkins. But while you're rallying up your kids, making last minute adjustments to princess and super hero costumes, did you ever wonder how this holiday came to be? It's an interesting story, one to, perhaps, share with your children after an exhausting night of trick-or-treating. Enjoy.

"Halloween" is actually an ancient Celtic holiday known as "Samhain" meaning "summer's end," a night when the veil between the dead and the living is thinnest. Being the most magical night of the year, ancient Celts, witches, and other nature based religions used this night to honor their loved ones who have passed. It is also a night thought to allow passage for evil spirits and demons to walk with the living and wreak havoc on the villages. Festivals began on the night of October 31st and continued on to the next day, November 1st (also known as "Hallowmas") and ended on November 2nd, (also known as "All Souls Day).

During these festivities, village people would prepare by lighting bonfires to attract insects, which would in turn attract bats, which were thought to frighten evil spirits. Children and adults would dress in costumes, mimicking the evil spirits in an effort to blend in, appease, or chase off the unwanted intruders. They would carve faces in pumpkins, squash and gourds as a way of welcoming their deceased loved ones in to their home, as well as to ward of any lingering evil spirits who may be with them.

November 1st is when the common mid evil practice of "souling" would begin. This activity was not practiced by every religion but was often done by the poor who would go door to door, begging for food and goods in return for prayers for the dead to be used the next day on "All Souls Day." This has evolved in to what we now know as "trick-or-treating."

Halloween has evolved in general over thousands of years. There are many different cultures who celebrate the holiday in different ways, some more sacred than others. But the American tradition of Halloween is rich with cultural traditions from all over the world, making for one of my most personal favorite holidays of the year.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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