….that creepy, spooky night when little ghosts and goblins, princesses and pirates, witches and many other costumed children come to your door begging for a treat. Today Halloween is a very commercial holiday designed to sell costumes, decorations and a whole lot of candy. And believe it or not…there probably isn’t a kid out there who cares why we celebrate Halloween. They just want the candy!
But Halloween didn’t start out to be fun and games for kids. About 2000 years ago Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sah-wen) was a Celtic festival celebration signifying the end of summer months and the beginning of winter. It was also considered the festival of the dead to honor ancestors and recently dead. Tlachtga where the Great Fire Festival at Samhain was celebrated was thought to be where the event began. It was believed that on October 31, the eve of Samhein, the veil between this world and the other was very thin and that spirits of the dead would pass through.
The Druids celebrated with the fire festival to encourage the dimming sun not to vanish. People wore masks and costumes to disguise themselves and danced around the fire to keep evil spirits away. Ancestors were welcomed into their homes and there were bonfires and food as part of the ceremonies. Food was also prepared for the dead but usually ended up being given to the poor. Fires in the home hearths were put out and restarted from the bonfires. Divination and fortune telling are believed to be more powerful at this time.
When the Romans conquered much of France and England Christianity began to spread throughout those areas. November 1st was changed to All Saints Day and the festival renamed All Hallows Eve, later becoming Hallowe’en then to our current day Halloween. Pope Boniface IV established that date as a day to remember all of the Church’s martyrs. Pope Gregory IV extended it’s observance to all Christians in the 9th Century AD. As Christianity spread throughout the world many pagan holidays were Christianized or forgotten.
Today’s Halloween celebration contains many of the traditions of the early Celtic festival. The dressing in costume, trick or treating, lighting bonfires are all reminiscent of the original festival. Many other cultures have similar festivals – honoring the dead, celebrating the harvest season, hanging decorations and wearing costumes. Many in Europe still leave food on the door step hoping it will prevent wandering spirits from entering the home.
On this Halloween, as those little trick-or-treaters come to the door remember the origins of this event. Give thanks for a good harvest, light a bonfire and remember and honor your ancestors, hang out decorations and don’t forget the treats for the little tricksters.
Trick or treating once had a more immportant role:
Children dressed as animals, spirits or gouls would be sent ot to scare away evil spirits, as a reward they would receive a treat of honey cakes from the villagers,