Halloween is a tradition celebrated on the night of October 31, most notably by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting sweets. It is celebrated in parts of the Western world, though most common in Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, Ireland, and with increasing popularity in Australia, and sometimes celebrated in New Zealand. Halloween originated among the Celts in Ireland, Britain and France.
Ah! Halloween! All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, All Saints’ Day, and all other names for this spooky day/night. One of my favorite times of year, third only to my birthday/Friday the 13th and Christmas. What could be more interesting for someone who’s into mysticism, sorcery, fantasy and magic than Halloween?
Want to know some facts? Sure thing!
Halloween, is the evening before “All Hallows’ Day” , or “All Saints’ Day”. In Ireland, the name was All Hallows’ Eve. It was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until it was appropriated by Christians when they came to Ireland. “Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit.”
It is often linked with the occult. “Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when the spiritual world can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent.”
The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, “End of Summer,” a pastoral and agricultural fire festival or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires would be lit to ward off evil spirits.
It was Pope Gregory IV who standardized the date of All Saints’ Day back in 835 AD. While the Celts were happy to move the date of their celebration of All Saints’ Day from mid-spring to autumn, they did not want to relinquish celebrating Samhain. We have little info, though, of how Halloween was celebrated in Ireland in the early days that it was first adopted.
In the UK, since the Anglo-Saxons pushed the Celts towards north and west, the celebration was pushed to those areas. Instead, they celebrated All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2, respectively. Some traditions were assigned to a later date due to the English Reformation period. It became popular again in the 1980s when American families in Britain reintroduced the celebrations.
In the United States, Halloween did not become a holiday until the 19th century. There is no record in the almanacs of this holiday in their lists. However, with the migration of two million Irish people due to the Irish Potata Famine in the late 1840s brought the holiday to the Americas.
It’s now common for both children and adults to dress up in costumes as creatures of the underworld and darkness. Bonfires are lit and, sometimes, there are even fireworks, especially in Ireland. Children visit their neighbors to ask for fruit, nuts and sweets for the feast. Playing tricks is also popular during Halloween. The familiar “Trick or Treat” call of children during Halloween can be heard throughout the night.
Pumpkin carving also became popular. As well as the hanging of lanterns and other decorative stuff in and outside of houses. In England, they hung up witchballs and, it is said, when a witch passes by, the ball will glow. Bobbing for apples is also played during Halloween.
The most popular symbol of Halloween is of course…
followed closely by the witch on the broomstick silhouetted against the full moon or even the stylized bat with fangs. Let’s not forget the scarecrow which is an element of the autumn season.
Black and orange are the traditional colors of the holiday. Black for death and witches and cats, while orange for pumpkins and the color of autumn. But other colors such as purple, green and red are also associated with Halloween. That is, green for goblins and monsters, purple for magic and mysticism, red for evil and blood!
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Samhain is the word for November in the Irish language. The Scottish Gaelic spelling is Samhuinn. The same word was used for a month in the Celtic calendar, and in particular the first three nights of this month, the festival marking the ending of the summer season, and the end of the harvest.
The Gaulish calendar may have divided the year into two halves, the “dark” half, beginning with the month Samonios (the October/November lunation), and the “light half”, beginning with the Giamonios (the April/May lunation). In modern Ireland and Scotland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Gaelic language is still “Oíche/Oidhche Shamhna”.
Samhain in ancient Celtic tradition represents the final harvest. It was the time to make an inventory of livestock and cattle, grain and to decide which animals would be slaughtered for the winter stock. Just like Halloween, bonfires played a large part during Samhain. In the movie, The Mists of Avalon, Samhain is featured several times.
In early Ireland, people gathered to celebrate at ritual places. They would extinguish the fires in their household hearths and wait for the druids to light the fire of the new year. This lighting of the new fire was done at Tlachtga – said to be the burial place of a woman of the same name. She was the daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith and may have once been a goddess herself. Prayers and thanksgiving for the harvest were offered to the gods who draw close to the earth during this time.
Samhain is also one of the eight annual holidays celebrated by modern Wiccans. According to their lore, Samhain is the time of year when the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead thins, thus allowing the supernatural to visit our world. Even more so, divination during Samhain is very significant because it is considered as the chief of the three Spirit Nights – May, Midsummer’s Eve and Samhain.
Old legends speak of an apple tree that grows in the Otherworld. In the stories, heroes pass across the western sea to find this wondrous place – called in Britain as Avalon. This legend became the source for a the game apple-dookin’ or bobbing for apples, which symbolizes the journey across the sea to get to the magical fruit.
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