Halloween is one of the oldest holidays with origins going back thousands of years. The holiday we know as Halloween has had many influences from many cultures over the centuries. From the Roman's Pomona Day, to the Celtic festival of Samhain, to the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days
Hundreds of years ago in what is now Great Britain and Northern France, lived the Celts. The Celts worshipped nature and had many gods, with the sun god as their favorite. It was "he" who commanded their work and their rest times, and who made the earth beautiful and the crops grow.
The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st. It was celebrated every year with a festival and marked the end of the "season of the sun" and the beginning of "the season of darkness and cold."
On October 31st after the crops were all harvested and stored for the long winter the cooking fires in the homes would be extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest (oak trees were considered sacred). The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the the fires, the season of the sun passed and the season of darkness would begin.
When the morning arrived the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires would keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits.
The November 1st festival was called Samhain (pronounced "sow-en"). The festival would last for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals. This festival would become the first Halloween.
During the first century the Romans invaded Britain. They brought with them many of their festivals and customs. One of these was the festival know as Pomona Day, named for their goddess of fruits and gardens. It was also celebrated around the 1st of November. After hundreds of years of Roman rule the customs of the Celtic's Samhain festival and the Roman Pomona Day mixed becoming 1 major fall holiday.
The next influence came with the spread of the new Christian religion throughout Europe and Britain. In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church would make November 1st a church holiday to honor all the saints. This day was called All Saint's Day, or Hallowmas, or All Hallows. Years later the Church would make November 2nd a holy day. It was called All Souls Day and was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.
But the spread of Christianity did not make people forget their early customs. On the eve of All Hallows, Oct. 31, people continued to celebrate the festivals of Samhain and Pomona Day. Over the years the customs from all these holidays mixed. October 31st became known as All Hallow Even, eventually All Hallow's Eve, Hallowe'en, and then - Halloween.
The Halloween we celebrate today includes all of these influences, Pomona Day's apples, nuts, and harvest, the Festival of Samhain's black cats, magic, evil spirits and death, and the ghosts, skeletons and skulls from All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day.
HALLOWEEN CUSTOMS & SYMBOLS
Pumpkins with carved faces (Jack-O-Lanterns) are the most well known and used symbol of Halloween, but they weren’t always made from pumpkins. The history of Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns began in Ireland, where hollowed-out turnips and other gourds were originally used. When Irish immigrants came to the United States, they found turnips harder to find, but found that pumpkins were a perfect substitute.
And why are they called "JACK" O-Lanterns? As the story goes, a man named Jack, a drunkard and trickster, fooled Satan into climbing a tree and Jack quickly carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
After Jack died, he could not get into Heaven because of his evil ways, but he also could not get into Hell because he had fooled the devil. Instead of letting Jack into Hell the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the icy darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
The tradition of going door to door (Trick-Or-Treating) and asking for candy in order not to play a trick on the poor family and their home is full of controversy. It is said that the practice may have originated with the Druids, who threatened dire consequences to people who didn't give generously to their demand for free food, goods or money.
Today Trick-Or-Treating is fairly tame
compared to the 1920s in North America. Tipping outhouses was a popular
tick (can you image being inside when this happened!!) and believe it or
not back then even cow-tipping was a prank in rural areas.
Some areas call the night before Halloween "GATE NIGHT" the practice of "Tricking" without asking for a treat. Switching peoples gates was the most common although many other outdoor items were switched from house to house, leaving the residents looking for their belongings the next day.
Others believe Trick-Or-Treating came from a European custom call "Souling" where it was though that the souls of the dead were still among the living for some time after death. In order to remain safe from the dead souls, people would leave out food for the souls to keep them at bay. The tradition may have also come from traditions surrounding All Souls Day (November 2nd). It was believed that praying for the dead would move the soul to heaven quicker. Christians would go from house to house and town to town "begging" for "soul cakes" (similar to scones with currents). The promise was if you received a soul cake you would pray for the dead to be taken to heave. The more soul cakes you could get the more prayers were promised to be said. (Visit our Virtual Trick Or Treating in a Pumpkin Patch ~ Link Below)
Witches have almost always been associated with Halloween. It is told that Witches got together two times a year, when the seasons were changing, April 30th, the Day before May Day and October 31st, All Hallow's Eve. As we all know, witches travel on broomsticks and they would go to parties that were hosted by the devil himself!
Black cats were associated with Witches, so have followed in the tradition of Halloween. Many stories evolve around the black cat. May believe that Black Cats were in fact Witches in disguise, while others believed that Black Cats were the spirits of the departed.
Bobbing For Apples
This custom is believed to come from the harvest and holiday of Samhain and the Roman holiday to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Vegetables, pumpkins, fruits, apples, nuts, and spices cider are also associated with these previous customs and Halloween today.
It is believed the custom of dressing in costumes comes from Christian times, not from the Druids as once believed. Nor was dressing in costume only limited to Halloween. The earliest examples of dressing in costumes seems to have been by poor people dressing in masks and costumes going from house to house and putting on a simple play or musical performances in return food and drink. This practice was called mumming (which comes from Mimes) or guising.
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