Pictured above: The Haunted Lane/ c1889/LOC
VAV!/October 22, 2014
The black as night holiday, Halloween, is celebrated on October 31. Otherwise known as Hallowe'en, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve, Halloween is the time of year when children and adults dress as ghosts, scarecrows, vampires, princesses, or their favorite cartoon character and forage into the night, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors. While visions of ghastly ghouls, witches, pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and hobgoblins dance mysteriously before the celebrant's eyes, they sing out 'trick or treat' in anticipation of the candy that will most certainly fill the bags they carry. While trick or treaters comb the streets today, a succession of Halloween parades unfold elsewhere in cities and towns and Halloween parties take the night with the bobbing of apples and carving out of pumpkins by roaring bon fires!
While today, Halloween is an evening of gaiety, that was not always so. During the 19th century and a greater part of the 20th century, Halloween earned a bad rap as rogues of ne'er do wells and trouble makers roamed the countryside and city raising a not so welcome raucous. Merrymakers began dressing in imitation of evil spirits and ghastly creatures all while performing mischief making activities in exchange for food and drink...a practice called mumming. From this, trick or treating evolved. For the greater part, the tricks were harmless, but others engaged in a more serious endeavor of vandalizing homes and businesses. As a result, it was not unusual to find a special police force put in place for the sole purpose of patrolling throughout the evening
"Nearly all Halloween traditions may be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead."
What are the origins of Halloween?
The origins of Halloween began in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. In accordance with the Celtics, their year began on the day that corresponded to November 1st on today's calendar. The first day of the year was the beginning of winter and a time when livestock was kept at closer pastures for the months ahead. As well, the new year was a time when crops were harvested and stored. It was, in short, a day that served as the beginning and ending of an ever eternal cycle.
The festival celebrating the first day of the year was called Samhain. The occasion was a very significant holiday, if not the most significant holiday, of the Celts. They believed on Samhain that the ghosts of the dead mingled amongst the living, "because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld." - Library of Congress
During Samhain, animals were sacrificed and bonfires burned brightly in homage to the dead as they made their final journey into the otherworld, and to keep them at bay from the living. The Celts also believed that Samhain harbored demons, ghosts, and fairies.
Samhain has long since transformed into the Halloween we celebrate today. The transformation came after Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celts and put an end to their "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain. While sweeping changes were made, in 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued an edict to his missionaries that rather than obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, he adjured them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. Consequently, the Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st and the day honored every Christian saint This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, and finally, replace it forever. While that eradication did not occur, and Samhain never died out entirely, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century on November 2nd as All Souls Day as a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. Nevertheless, the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.
All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows, continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to All Saints Day was the time of concentrated activity of both human and supernatural entities. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead. As time moved onward, people continued the legacy of those spirits' existence (and their masked impersonators) with the practice of setting out gifts of food and drink. Thereafter, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en.
Nearly all Halloween traditions may be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. The wearing of costumes and going door to door for trick or treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, offerings of food and drink were left out to placate the souls of the dead and evil spirits. As time evolved, and centuries lapsed one into another, people began dressing in imitation of evil spirits and ghastly creatures all while performing hi-jinx in exchange for food and drink. The practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved.
Library of Congress