Edited by Gerald Boerner
Halloween is a time of year that most kids look forward to and parents dread. It is a time of dressing up in timely costumes, going around neighborhoods trick-or-treating, pulling pranks, and generally getting into mischief. It is the modern celebration of the Celtic Feast of Samhain that marked the end of the summer and the beginning of winter. It was coopted by the church as a way to gain members while still giving them the celebration of their traditional observances.
Is is celebrated in much of the western world in various forms. Today we introduce the topic while in coming days we will look at specific manifestations of this holiday. This will be an interesting walk down history and the traditions and cultures that have molded the observance to their own populations.
So let’s get started with our exploration of the holiday that we, as kids, looked forward to and couldn’t wait to examine our “stash” of candy and other goodies. It’s time to get going… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 1521 Words ]
Quotations Related to Halloween:
“Where there is no imagination there is no horror.”
— Arthur Conan Doyle, Sr.
“Eat, drink and be scary.”
— Author Unknown
“Nothing on Earth so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night.”
— Steve Almond
“I’ll bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween.”
— Author Unknown
“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”
— George Carlin
“A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”
— Erma Bombeck
“Halloween is huge in my house and we really get into the "spirits" of things.”
— Dee Snider
“This Halloween the most popular mask is the Arnold Schwarzenegger mask. And the best part? With a mouth full of candy you will sound just like him.”
— Conan O’Brien
“Those seemingly interminable dark walks between houses, long before street-lit safety became an issue, were more adrenalizing than the mountains of candy filling the sack. Sadly Halloween, with our good-natured attempts to protect the little ones, from the increasingly dangerous traffic and increasingly sick adults, has become an utter bore.”
— Lauren Springer
Halloween Celebrations: Basic Traditions…
Halloween (also spelled Hallowe’en) is an annual holiday celebrated on October 31. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints. It is largely a secular celebration but some have expressed strong feelings about perceived religious overtones.
The day is often associated with orange and black, and is strongly associated with symbols like the jack-o’-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and attending costume parties, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.
The name Halloween (or at least an Old English name which the modern term derives from), and many present-day traditions, derive from the Old English era.
Halloween has origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, (pronounced sow-in or sau-an), which is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer’s end". A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced kalan-geyf). The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year".
The young children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play a variant, which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string. The couples at left play divination games.
The celebration has some elements of a festival of the dead. The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.
Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.
Another common practice was divination, which often involved the use of food and drink.
Origin of name
The term Halloween, originally spelled Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows’ Even – e’en is a shortening of even, which is a shortening of evening. This is ultimately derived from the Old English Eallra Hālgena ǣfen. It is now known as "Eve of" All Saints’ Day, which is November 1st.
A time of pagan festivities, Popes Gregory III (731–741) and Gregory IV (827–844) tried to supplant it with the Christian holiday (All Saints’ Day) by moving it from May 13 to November 1.
In the 800s, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar. Although All Saints’ Day is now considered to occur one day after Halloween, the two holidays were once celebrated on the same day.
On All Hallows’ eve, the ancient Celts would place a skeleton on their window sill to represent the departed. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. Believing that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge, the Celts used the "head" of the vegetable to frighten off harmful spirits. Welsh, Irish and British myth are full of legends of the Brazen Head, which may be a folk memory of the widespread ancient Celtic practice of headhunting – the results of which were often nailed to a door lintel or brought to the fireside to speak their wisdom. The name jack-o’-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip.
The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both readily available and much larger- making them easier to carve than turnips. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark. The American tradition of carving pumpkins preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 1800s.
The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely a mix of the Halloween season itself, works of Gothic and horror literature, in particular novels Frankenstein and Dracula, and nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and British Hammer Horror productions, also a rather commercialized take on the dark and mysterious. Halloween imagery tends to involve death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include the Devil, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, and crows.
Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films (which contain fictional figures like Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
The two main colors associated with Halloween are orange and black.
Around the world
With its roots in Celtic cultures, Halloween is not celebrated in all countries and regions of the world, and among those that do the traditions and importance of the celebration vary significantly. Celebration in the United States has had a significant impact on how the holiday is observed in other nations. The history of Halloween traditions in a given country also lends context to how it is presently celebrated.
Please take time to further explore more about Halloween, Hallowe’en, Celtic Festival of Samhain, Jack-o’-Lantern, Trick-or-Treating, Wearing Costumes, and Ghost Tours by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Brainy Quote: Halloween Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Happy Halloween…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Halloween Celebrations: Basic Traditions…