Monday, October 27, 2008

The History And Origin Of Halloween Traditions

By Patrick Omari

Halloween and All Souls Day are a mixture of both Pagan and Christian beliefs. Two thousand years ago the Celts used to make sacrifice to the dead by burning the bones of animals on large bonfires. This was thought to protect them from spirits who on October 31st, the end of the Celtic year, were said to return to Earth once more. If the person had died within the year, on this night they were thought to pass to the next world. Therefore this evening was believed to be one of great spirit activity.

Christianity gradually spread over the years and had spread into the Celtic lands by the 800s. In the seventh century Pope Boniface IV made November 1 a day more in line with the Christian faith named All Saints Day, yet October 31st was still a day of significance for many . Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

Halloween today is on October 31 in line with the old pagan practices and superstitions. Even today we practice ancient traditions, often without even knowing so. For instance many people still feel that October 31st is the most spooky night of the year, keeping with the Celtic tradition that on the last day of the Celtic year the line between the worlds of the living and dead was very hazy.

Many people also put on masks ready to go out trick or treating. The idea of putting masks on at night roots from both Celtic and European ideas. Winter was a time of worry, as food supplies from the harvest were precious. People were constantly on edge and many were scared of the dark. Electricity was non existent, resulting in incredibly short days. It was thought that if you wore a mask after dark on the particularly frightful night of Halloween ghosts would not recognise you. They would instead mistake you for fellow spirits. Even today you can see people wondering the streets in a variation of masks, most probably unaware of the history behind the tradition.

People used to also leave bowls of food outside their houses to keep the ghosts happy and try to protect themselves and their homes. Many people today give sweets in fear of trick or treaters damaging their houses.

The concept of asking for sweets is likely to originate from All Soul's day where the poor would knock on people's doors and beg for food. they were often given caked known as "soul cakes", fruit and sometimes money. This tradition has now turned into the custom that we know as trick or treating.

The history and customs of the past are still with us today in many shapes and forms whether we are aware of them or not. Therefore, this Halloween take a moment to reflect upon how it was once originally celebrated.

Patrick is an expert Research and Travel consultant. His current interest is in airport hotels and Edinburgh airport parking

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