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Halloween

Hallowmas.


Photo by Clint Patterson


Date:

October 31


Origin:

Celtic Ireland, later Rome


Original Name:

Samhain


Etymology

Old English: hallow = holy


Ex. Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.




Information


Celebrations on October 31 related to spirits and the dead originated with the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, which celebrated the end of the year, over 2,000 years ago. For the Celts, the new year began on November 1. They believed that on New Year's Eve, October 31, the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred, and spirits of the dead, including one's ancestors, would be able to walk the earth, where they were known to get into mischief, which was often destructive. As a result, people would wear costumes and would often leave offerings in the form of food and other gifts outside of their homes for the spirits, so the undead spirits would not harm crops or even people. This thinning of the boundary also made it easier for divination rituals. Spiritual leaders, called the Druids, but also regular citizens would make predictions about the future. The town would light a big bonfire, and everyone would celebrate around it.


Over the centuries, the Roman Empire conquered the area, and eventually Christian influences began to impact many of the customs. The celebration on October 31 took on a Christian take. It came to be believed that the spirits walked the earth because they were in between heaven and hell, concepts not previously part of the festival. Participants continued to wear costumes and even make Jack-o-lanterns.

"On route home after a night's drinking, Jack encounters the Devil and 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." 1

In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV of the The Roman Catholic Church rededicated the Pantheon, originally created for pagan gods to now honor the virgin Mary, martyrs and saints. Perhaps as a response to some of the potentially negative aspects of the celebration on October 31, in the 8th century, Catholic Pope Gregory III moved the celebration from May 31 to November 1, declaring it All Saints Day. The day is also known as The Feast of All Saints, All Hallows Day and Hallowmas.


Celebrations around October 31 and November 1 remain popular to this day.





  1. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying (Glennys Howarth, Oliver Leaman), Taylor & Francis, p. 320


 

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