Saturday, October 11, 2003

Halloween, A Religious Holiday?

Ever since I could remember there have been people that have claimed that Halloween was really about worshiping evil, and should be condemned. They don’t celebrate it, they scoff at those who do, and they generally like to make you feel like you’re a bad person for doing so. Luckily not all people feel this way; many have Halloween parties and activities.

Is Halloween about devil worship? Is it a holiday for witches? Do the dead walk the Earth? Time to set the record straight about just exactly what Halloween is, and I think it will surprise you…

Since the United States is such a young country compared to the rest of the world, many of our holidays started long ago in countries far away. Halloween is no different. Far as I can tell, it began as a Celtic tradition.

The ancient Celts celebrated the years harvest and end of summer on October 31st. The harvest festival is called, Samhain (sow-en), to ring in the Celtic New Year. Since this was also the time when the sun was losing its hold in the Northern hemisphere, and winter was coming on, superstitions called for this night as the time when the veil between the world of the dead, and the world of the living, was at its weakest.

Festivities for the harvest during the day turned to protecting themselves from the dead at night.

People would put out the fires in their homes so that the dead would not be attracted to their house. They would instead build large bon fires on the hill tops to honor the sun, and possibly to attract the wandering souls to the bon-fires and away from their villages.

It was no holiday for children, but adults would dress up as spirits to scare way other spirits that walked the Earth looking for bodies to inhabit. During this time it was common to blame things on the “tricks” of spirits much like we refer to gremlins doing things today.

When the Celtic people were conquered by the Romans, they were not very receptive to changing their ways to the Roman beliefs. As with all religious conversions, the Romans had to come up with some way to integrate these people into their own traditions.

In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration of all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13th to Novemeber 1st to coincide with the pagan celebration of Samhain. With this move the Romans also integrated the celebration of their harvest traditions, and the celebration of their Goddess Pomona, the Goddess of fruit and trees. The apple, common to many Halloween traditions such as bobbing for them and dipping them in caramel, was the symbol for Pomona.

All Saint’s Day is a day to worship the Saint’s, or the Holy Ones (All Hallow’s). The evening before, or the e’en, of All Hallow’s is where we get the combined name of Halloween. Essentially, the night before All Saint’s Day, thus, Halloween was created by the Roman Catholic Church. The term Hallow’s Eve means the Holy Evening.

On November 2nd the Catholic Church also has All Soul’s day, which is the commemoration of and prayer for all of the souls in purgatory.

On Hallow’s Eve people would go door-to-door asking for bread or cakes and in return, they would say a prayer for the recently deceased from that household. It was believed that when people first died, they would linger a bit before actually passing on. These extra prayers would help their loved ones on their way.

Trick or treating probably emerged from the “tricks” played on people by the spirits of the Celtic belief, and the “treats” gathered by the Roman beliefs. Today, the tradition has evolved into our children dressing up as all manner costumed beings, and going door-to-door asking for treats.

Since many modern Christian religions no longer have the deep associations with Saints, and don’t celebrate All Saints, and All Souls, it is understandable why they may come to view Halloween as nothing more then commercial trappings with an evil connotation.

So you see, the intent of Halloween is not evil, but to protect ourselves from evil, and to honor those who have died. Instead of wasting your energy worrying about superstitious beliefs that are unfounded, embrace Halloween as a time to reflect on the lives of those who have passed-on recently, and a time when children of all ages, can dress up and have fun before winter is upon them.

Happy Halloween!

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