Category Archives: HALLOWEEN HISTORY
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Re-visiting Wednesday, October 30, 2013
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Over the last few decades, Halloween has grown from a night centered around children trick or treating, to a multi-billion dollar industry. Costumes, décor, parties, haunted house events – all have made the Halloween season the unofficial kickoff to the end-of-year holidays. But like most traditions, its original meaning has been lost throughout the years.
This week on One Cell One Light Radio, Dr. Hildy hosts a discussion on the origins of Halloween with Screenwriter, Eric Ernst. Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others that may be rooted in Celtic Christianity.
Samhain was the first and most important of the four quarter-days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man on or about October 31 and kindred festivals were held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts.
Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. It was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left for the Aos Sí and the souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. In 19th century Ireland, candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this the eating, drinking, and games would begin. The household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one’s future, especially regarding death and marriage.
Today’s Halloween customs are also influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy day of All Hallows’ Day, thus giving the holiday the full name of All Hallows’ Eve. But it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.
As for the many traditions of Halloween, in Ireland and Scotland, the turnip has traditionally been carved during Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is both much softer and much larger – making it easier to carve than a turnip. In Scotland and Ireland, guising – children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins – is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. In Hallowed Be Thy Name, a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes is offered:”By dressing up in costumes and portraying frightening creatures, who at one time caused us to fear and tremble, we. . . are poking fun at the serpent whose head has been crushed by our Savior.” Furthermore, in the Christian tradition, “images of skeletons, ghosts, graveyard scenes, nighttime creatures such as bats are traditional decorations. Over time, in the United States the costume selection extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and generic archetypes such as ninjas and princesses.
Join Dr. Hildy and Eric Ernst, as they discuss the History of Halloween on One Cell One Light Radio!
Halloween’s Celtic Roots – Archaeology Magazine
http://archive.archaeology.org/online/interviews/butler.html – Exploring how the past and present mix in the night of costumes and jack o’ lanterns.