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THE HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN

 

 

Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, is celebrated on the 31st of October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed. It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated in Britain and Ireland from Celtic harvest festivals which may have pagan roots and that this festival was Christianized as Halloween. Others believe that Halloween began as a Christian holiday. Halloween dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin meaning hallowed or holy evening.

 

In 835, All Hallows’ Day was officially switched to November 1st, the same date as the Celtic festival of Samhain, by Pope Gregory IV. By the 12th century, they had become holy days of obligation across Europe which included the ringing of church bells for souls in purgatory. Criers dressed in black paraded the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound, calling on good Christians to remember the poor souls. Souling, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating. The custom dates back to the 15th century in parts of England, Flanders, Germany and Austria. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door collecting soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead. In order to avoid being recognized by any souls seeking vengeance, people wore masks and costumes to disguise their identities. Carved jack-o’-lanterns represented the souls of the dead. Fires were lit to guide souls on their way and deflect them from haunting honest Christians. Candles known as soul lights were lit in every room, guiding souls back to visit their earthly homes. The Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve include attending church services and lighting candles on graves of the dead.

 

Today’s Halloween costumes are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from Celtic-speaking countries and the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. These festivals marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter or the darker half of the year. Seen as liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the otherworld thinned, spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world and were particularly active.  The souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. From at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales. This involved people going house-to-house in costume, usually reciting verse or songs in exchange for food. From at least the 18th century, imitating malignant spirits led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Wearing costumes and playing pranks spread to England in the 20th century. The traditional illumination for guisers and pranksters were turnips or mangel wurzels, hallowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces. The lanterns were said to represent the spirits or ward off evil spirits. They were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in the 19th century. In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o’-lanterns.

 

Anglican colonists in the Southern United States and Catholic colonists in Maryland recognized All Hallows’ Eve in their church calendars. It was not until mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century that Halloween became a major holiday in North America. Confined to immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the beginning of the 20th century was celebrated nationally. In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip has traditionally been carved during Halloween. Immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is much softer and larger, making it easier to carve. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time until it became associated with Halloween in the mid-to-late 19th century. The practice of guising at Halloween is first recorded in 1911 in Kingston, Ontario. Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930’s, with the first U.S. appearance in 1934. Costuming became popular for Halloween parties in the U.S. in the early 20th century.

 

Today, traditional secular Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, decorating, caring pumpkins, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films.





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