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The history and origin of halloween

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Halloween: Then and Now

Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine, I remember being so excited as a child every year when October would come around again. The decorations, scary movies, haunted houses, dressing up in costumes, and best of all, the candy! This time of year was always filled with so much fun and energy. Even as I became older, this particular holiday always held my interest. My goal for this paper is to explain why Halloween has always interested me, how did these particular customs originate and what is it a celebration of, and how has this particular holiday passed the test of time?

There was just always something about Halloween, in my opinion. I remember counting down the days in October to the time when we could go pick out our costumes. This was a tough choice as a kid, what to be, what should I wear, is it scary enough or do I want to be a princess this year? We ultimately always found the “best costume ever,” even after changing our minds about a thousand times. Before we even left the costume store, we could not wait to put our costumes on. Mama always told us that we could not wear it until Halloween night, and boy did that take some restraint!

The costumes were always a big hit for Halloween, but, we cannot forget about the haunted houses, scary movies, and most importantly, the candy! Going out on Halloween night was always filled with lots of fun with the neighborhood kids and their families. The houses along our street were always decorated with ghosts, goblins, and the occasional neighborhood dad who always found it hilarious to run out from behind the bushes to scare us as we rang the doorbell. This time of year was just always filled with good memories, with people coming together for good times. This time of year began the onset of fall, the cooler weather, and a much needed break from all the hustle and bustle from the beginning of the school year. Even now that I am an adult, with children of my own, I still feel the same way I did as a child. I cannot wait to decorate, buy the costumes, and go trick-or-treating. It is like being a kid all over again every Halloween.

As much as I enjoy Halloween, I often found myself wondering, even as a child, where did the idea of Halloween come from? Being raised in the church, it was somewhat confusing that we were allowed to dress up as demons, witches, and goblins, creatures that we were taught were bad things. As time wore on, I wanted to know the history of this vigorous holiday, and why we celebrated it. Today, Halloween is a mostly secular holiday associated with tricks, treats, costumes and parties. However, Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day have roots deep in religious history.1. The Celtic festival Samhain. Samhain was the… [show all]

Today, we know that Halloween is a mostly secular holiday associated with trick-or treats, costumes, fall festivals and parties. However, tracing back the origins of Halloween can be quite confusing and frustrating. Each culture has its own reasons for celebrating Halloween. Whether it's to honor and show respect for the dead, or honor saints, or celebrate witchcraft, Halloween has been a distinguished holiday for centuries past. According to Geo Athena Trevarthan (2010), “Halloween is the ancient Celtic New Year, originally called Samhain (pronounced Saw'-vwin). Historians first came across the name on a first-century B.C. Gaulish calendar engraved in un-bronze tablets, discovered in 1837 in Coligny, France. The first month was Sawonios, meaning "summer's end." Samhain began the "dark half of the year on November 1st with the “light hair" beginning on May 1st.” Through ancient documented history, we know that Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Samhain marked the beginning of winter which was the largest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. Celtic beliefs were that during the time of Samhain, the ghosts of the dead were able to intermingle with the living because the spirits were on their way to the otherworld. The Celts would light bon fires to help the spirits along their journey, as well as to ward them off from the living. They would also dress in costumes to “scare away” as well as confuse the evil spirits that have not passed over to the otherworld yet.

The religious roots do not stop with the Celtics, they move right along onto Christianity and Catholicism as well. “All Saints Day, which honors all Christian saints, especially those without a name, was celebrated by the early church, usually on May 1st. In 834, the celebration was changed to November 1st, which is still used. The change to the November 1st date may stem from the early 700s, when Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter's church to all saints on November 1st,” (Advocate “1-E”).

Later on, as Christianity began to broaden its boundaries and the Celts were assimilated, the Celts tried to sustain their pagan festivals and customs. Since All Hallows' Day or All Saints Day was instituted on November 1st, October 31st became known as All Hallows' Eve. All Hallows' Eve later became known as Halloween and then over time, it progressed to what we know as our modern-day Halloween. “During the ancient time of All Hallows' Eve, people offered "soul cakes" to the poor who would come door to door and beg for these soul cakes in exchange for their prayers for the deceased family members of those offering the cakes,”(Orange County Register, News).

The blending of pagan rituals, to Christianity, to seasonal festivities has been remarkable, to say the least. “Halloween, as with many of our holidays, has been shaped by rich folk traditions from around the world.” (Daniels 28-29). This elaborate holiday has become a common tradition for many people, from children and teenagers, even including adults. The celebrations, that were once sacred traditions, combine the festive enjoyment of food, games and fellowship. Costumes, haunted houses, carved pumpkins and trick-or-treating all add to the enjoyment and excitement of the season. “To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harkens back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day. “Halloween has evolved in its 2,000 year history, but the sentiment remains the same. This is a night when a chill is in the air, and it's not just from the late autumn weather. As you head out to celebrate the mysterious magic and feast on the foods, consider the roots of some of the customs you might be re-enacting,” (The Santa Fe New Mexican, C-1).


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