Like Christmas, New Year’s Day, Ramadan, or Yom Kippur, Halloween is celebrated almost in every country, even if the celebration implies only external attributes, such as pumpkins, costumes, and children asking for candy. Though the initial meaning of Halloween had much to do with occult powers, spirits, and protection against evil forces, today it is more of a merry holiday, a little bit spooky, but still enjoyed both by adults and children. So, what are the origins of Halloween?
Historically, the word Halloween is a contraction of the phrase “All Hallows Even,” which meant the day before All Hallows Day (more known as All Saints’ Day) (About.com). It was a Catholic holiday dedicated to the commemoration of saints and martyrs for faith; today, though, we know it more as a holiday of trick-or-treating, scary costumes, and funny pranks. Gradually, Halloween has lost its religious connotations, and has turned into a holiday gladly celebrated by youth and adults across the western world on October 31.
Though it is considered that Halloween has its origins in the early Middle Ages, some scientists think it is even more ancient. Peter Tokofsky, an assistant professor in the department of folklore and mythology of UCLA, believes Halloween as we know it today arose from the Celtic festival Samhain (Albany.edu). Samhain was demarcating the end of summer; on this day, souls of the dead were believed to be penetrating the real world. This was also the Celtic New Year, and druids used to celebrate it with a great fire festival, to ‘support’ the dimming Sun and not to let it vanish.
It was believed during Samhain that the living were entertaining the dead; on that night, spirits were looking for a body to possess for the entire incoming year. To avoid such a destiny, people would dress up like evil spirits themselves; scary masks or masks of animals were used to mimic these spirits and deceive them, thus avoiding being possessed. Most likely, this rite has given the start to the modern tradition to wear costumes of ghosts and witches on Halloween.
Later, Samhain was influenced by Roman and Christian cultures after Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs (History.com). Halloween gradually started to gain its modern features and characteristics. Though Halloween today is seen more as an American holiday, it was transported to North America by Irish immigrants in the middle 1800s (About.com). There it became, to a significant extent, commercialized and popularized, and its religious background has been almost forgotten; at the same time, back on the lands where Samhain originated, even in 19th century, people were afraid to walk outside after nightfall.
Along with Christmas, the New Year’s Day, and other grand holidays, Halloween is one of the most ancient and mysterious festivals, which has its origins in long forgotten pagan beliefs and rituals. As it happened to the majority of these holidays, Halloween’s religious connotations are today known by few; nowadays, it is celebrated more for fun. But, despite this, an attentive and curious researcher will easily trace the spirit of hoary rites and customs in modern trick-or-treating, cosplay, and symbols.
Emery, David. “A Quick Guide to the Origin & History of Halloween.” About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/halloween/a/History-Of-Halloween.htm>
“The Origins of Halloween.” Albany.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.albany.edu/~dp1252/isp523/halloween.html>
“Halloween.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/halloween>
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Informative Essay History Of Halloween
History of Halloween
Close to $7 billion dollars is what consumers spent on Halloween costumes, candy, and decorations in 2011. When the temperature starts to drop, the leaves turn different colors and the sun sets earlier little by little each day, fall is the perfect season to celebrate Halloween. Millions of children dress up and go to strangers doors begging for candy. Have you ever wondered where this strange and unique tradition originated from? -- The three most important points of Halloween can be summed up by looking at its origins, how it came to include jack-o-lanterns and bobbing for apples, and how it is celebrated today with trick-or-treating and haunted houses.
Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve, has originated from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samahin ("sow-in") derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end". The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated the end of the harvest season with the festival of Samhain and celebrated the upcoming new Year on November 1.
Used by the ancient pagans, Samhain was a time to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. October 31 was the day the ancient Gaels believed the boundaries overlapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, and the departed souls would come back to life and cause mayhem such as damaged crops and sickness. The Gaels built massive bonfires and summoned the help from gods through animal and possibly human sacrifices to ward of the spirits. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area which in turn attracted bats. These are additional features of the history of Halloween. Halloween is also thought to be influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day, also known as Hallowmas, and All Souls' Day falling on November 1 and 2. It was a time for honoring the saints and praying for the deceased who had yet to reach heaven.
Traditionally it was believed that the departed souls roamed the earth until All Saints' Day, and Hallows' Eve delivered one last chance before moving on to the next world, to gain revenge on their enemies. Christians would disguise themselves in costumes and masks to avoid being recognized by the wandering souls.
Trick or treating is the practice of dressing up in costumes and going door to door begging for candy and resembles the late medieval practice of "souling" when the poor would proceed door to door on Hallowmas receiving food, or "soul cakes" which were pastries, and in return would pray for their dead relative's souls. It was believed at the time the souls of the departed would wait for passage into heaven until enough people prayed for their souls. "Soul cakes" would be given in exchange for a song, performance, or another sort of "trick" in some cultures. Eventually, children embraced this practice and were given...
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