All Hallows’ Eve


Halloween has just passed. Halloween means walking around your neighborhood getting free candy and watching movies like Dracula and Frankenstein, but was Halloween always like this? Halloween happens on a day that used to be All Hallows Eve, which was considered the greatest day to practice magic. What was All Hallows Eve and how was it celebratpumpkined?

All Hallows Eve, also known as Samhain in Celtic culture, was the most significant holiday because it marked the beginning of the winter season, and also was considered an ending and a beginning in the eternal cycle (Santino). All Hallows Eve was seen as important because the people believed that spirits of the dead were closest to them. “It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld” (Santino).

Since the people believed that the spirits were close to the living on this day, people wanted to make sure that they honored the spirits of their dead, as well as keeping other beings away from their homes. “People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons–all part of the dark and dread” (Santino).

While this is different from what Halloween is today, the traditions today can be traced back to this ancient holiday. While different cultures have different customs, there is a similar history. “The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons” (Santino). Leaving food and drinks out can also be traced to this tradition because these treats were left out to placate and make sure nothing bad happened (Santino). Mumming can be traced back to the Samhain tradition because it was how food was passed around. “As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved” (Santino).

What is most interesting is how even though the holiday of Samhain was to be erased from history, almost everything about it has evolved into what Halloween is today. Dressing up was a way to hid from evil spirits, having food and drinks passed out were a way to get paid for their acting, and also the food that is associated with Halloween are the same today. “Halloween also retains some features that harken 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” (Santino).

Even though Halloween is seen as a day to dress up and get free candy, it still retains its place in society as an important celebration. “Today Halloween is becoming once again an adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening” (Santino).

 

Submitted by Erin Schiels

References:

Jack Santino. “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows”. Retreived from http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html. November 1, 2013.

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