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Halloween

This article is about the holiday. For the Halloween movies, see Halloween (movie).


Halloween or Halloweve is a holiday celebrated in much of the Western world on the night of October 31, the night before All Saints Day (Nov. 1). Originating in Ireland, and brought to the United States by Irish emigrants in the 19th century. It is now associated with ghosts, trick-or-treating, candy corn, ghost stories[?], pumpkins, jack o'lanterns, witches, black cats[?], costumes, parties and banshees . Children often dress up in costumes and knock on neighborhood doors saying, "Trick[?] or Treat[?]" and receiving candy, originally in return for a joke, a song, or some other trick.

Customs

There are several traditional games associated with Halloween parties. The most common is bobbing for apples[?], in which a tub or a large basin is filled with water in which apples float. The participants must remove an apple from the basin using only their mouths. Naturally everyone gets wet. Another common game involves hanging up treacle[?] or syrup-coated scones[?] by strings. These must be eaten without using hands while they remain attached to the string, an activity which inevitably leads to a very sticky face.Another game, Púicíní[?] (pronounced "pook-eeny"), a form of "Blindfold", is played in Ireland. A blindfolded person was seated in front of a table on which are placed several saucers.The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then choses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the the person's life for the following year.A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year. A saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth and a bean means poverty etc.

A Halloween custom which has survived unscathed to this day in Ireland is the baking, or, more often nowadays, the purchase of a barm brack[?] (Ir. "báirín breac"). This is a light fruit cake[?] into which a plain ring is placed before baking. It is said that whoever finds this ring will find his or her true love over the following year.

History

Although modern Halloween is a secular holiday, it evolved from several pagan holidays.

Its earliest roots are found in the Druidic holiday of death which took place each year on October 31 and was held in honour of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. After the crops were harvested, Druids in Ireland and Britain would light fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the fires, the season of the sun[?] passed and the season of darkness[?] would begin. When the morning of November 1 arrived, the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires were believed to keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits, as it was considered a time of year when the veils were thin between worlds. A three-day festival called Samhain (pronounced "sow-inn") followed. In Ireland it was believed to be the night on which the invisible "gates" between this world and the Other World were opened and free movement between both worlds was possible. In the Other World lived the immortal "Shee[?]", the female members of whom were called Banshees.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. (the word bonfire is thought to derive from these "bone fires.") With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Like most Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on a number of levels. Materially speaking it was the time of gathering in of food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of a tribal people for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount.

This was the most evil time of the year. It was a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival Samhain, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. During the night the great shield of Skathach[?] was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of evil to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds roamed amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided to exorcize them. If food and shelter were not provided, these spirits would cast spells and cause havoc towards those failing to fulfill their requests.

It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes. The pagan observances influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows Eve[?].

On the level of cosmic event, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon.

In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God, Lugh, maimed at Lughnassadh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self), the Lord of Misrule. Lugh traverses the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a miser and though he shines brightly in the winter skies he gives no warmth and does not temper the breath of the Crone, Cailleach Bheare[?], the north wind. In this may be discerned the ageless battle between the light and dark and the cyclic nature of life and the seasons.

In parts of western Brittany Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou[?]. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld[?].

After the Romans colonised much of Britain, elements of the Roman festival known as Pomona Day[?] were also introduced. Pomona Day was held on November 1, and is named for Pomona, a Roman Goddess of fruits and gardens.

When Christianity eventually reached Ireland in 432 and Britain, conversion began among the local people, including Christianization of the old traditions. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints' Day to replace the pagan festival of the dead. It was observed on May 13. Later, Pope Gregory III changed the date to November 1. October 31 became known as All Hallows Even, eventually All Hallows Eve, Hallowe'en (still used as the standard spelling in Ireland), and then Halloween in the US. Obsevance of Halloween faded in Britain from the 17th cetury onwards, being replaced by the commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5. It is only in the last decade that it has become popular in Britain again, although in an entirely Americanised version. It did, however, survive unscathed in Ireland. Nowadays in Ireland, the last Monday of October is a public holiday. All schools close for the following week for mid-term, commonly called the Hallowe'en Break. As a result Ireland is the only country where children never have school on Halloween and are therefore free to celebrate it in the ancient and time-honoured fashion.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have evolved from the 9th century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" - square pieces of bread with currants. Beggars would promise to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives helping the soul's passage to heaven.

Irish emigrants from the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1846 brought with them the holiday of Halloween to the United States.

Religious Viewpoints

Some fundamentalist Christian groups consider Halloween a Pagan holiday because of these early Pagan origins, and refer to it as "The most evil day of the year", refusing to allow their children to participate. Among these groups it is believed to still have Satanic influences, as are many other Pagan practices. Other Christians continue to connect this holiday with All Saints Day.

Neopagans also do not practice Halloween, but for different reasons. Instead of rejecting it because of its Pagan origins, they rather embrace the earlier Pagan practice and celebrate a version of the older Celtic festival of Samhain.

See also Day of the Dead



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