“We all know Halloween was invented by the candy companies”
Thankfully, most of us know this isn’t true. Halloween or Hallowe’en is observed all over the world and has encompassed many different traditions to make a season of festivities. The origins of Halloween are debatable, with many assuming that they come from Catholic theology with All Hallows Day since the feast falls on the 31st of October, and while the name may have come from the day the traditions observed are much older. The feast is part of a three day celebration called Allhallowtide where saints and the faithful are remembered and celebrated in death.
The traditions themselves are mainly Celtic and relate to the feast of Samhain. Many traditions of Halloween such as pumpkins, corn, bonfires, and apple bobbing are all traditions of the harvest and have nothing to do with death or spirits but the changing of the seasons. The costumes used by the Celts at the time were Druidic in nature and meant to protect them from evil.
Christian Halloween Worship Today
Today Christians focus more on the prayer and worship services of Allhallowtide, souling is practically extinct, and it has been renamed as Reformation Day by protestants as an homage to the Lutheran reformation which supposedly was started on All Hallows Eve. The Archdiocese of Boston has granted Halloween as a saints feast so there are still some Allhallowtide festivities out there, but they have moved away from the connotations with the dead so that they are not confused with the secular Halloween.
Many Irish settlers moved to America over time, bringing both these Catholic and Celtic traditions with them. The Puritans opposed the holiday and did not consider Allhallowtide as a feast but in the mass migrations of the 19th century the immigrant communities still strongly celebrated. In the southern areas this coupled with many of the African Cajun traditions for the same time which intermingled into festivals like Dia de los Muertos because of similarities like spending the night at the graveside and lighting candles.
Jack O Lantern
The story goes that Jack ran into the devil one night and trapped him in a tree. Making a bargain with him for release the Devil agreed to never claim his soul. However, when he died Jack was refused entry to heaven and since he was not allowed in hell the devil threw a lighted coal at him. Jack put the coal into a hollowed turnip to act as a lantern as he searched for a place to rest in his after life. The meaning of a carved pumpkin is also linked to light scaring away dark spirits when placed outside the home since All Hallows is when the veil between the spirit world and the real one is thinnest.
Trick or Treating
Originally cakes called soul cakes were given out on the feast of hallows to singers who would go door to door much like carolers. This practice was known as souling but it was also practiced by beggars and mummers (actors dressed in costume) who would perform for food. This practice began in the middle ages and continued even until the 1930s when souling was used by the poor of the parish. In Celtic tradition guising was used by children up to the 19th century for the same practice but in costume begging for food or coins.
Halloween has many meanings for many people, the origin of Halloween is really a mixture of different cultures which have come together. It’s quite amusing and amazing at the same time considering how the season is vilified by some and celebrated by others.
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