Monday, October 29, 2012

A Halloween love story

Most of us would consider Halloween to be a fun time of the year - a time for costume parties, trick or treating, and pumpkin carving. I actually know a few people who aren’t in favor of all the festivities that normally occur on October 31, probably because it was originally a PAGAN celebration a long, long, time ago.

The same people would likely be horrified if they knew that the ancient pagan festival known as Saturnalia is the basis for Christmas. Although the exact dates of the celebration varied a little through the centuries, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun" was celebrated in the later Roman Empire on December 25.

The ancient Celts date back as far as 1000 years before the birth of Christ, and possibly even further back than that. One of the most important of their celebrations was Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), which marked the end of the harvest, and the end of summer. The date was also considered to be the start of the Celtic New Year. The Celts believed that this was the day when two worlds (the living and the dead) came together. Because the Celts believed that some of those “other worldly” spirits could cause mischief, they left food for them. They also lit huge bonfires because they believed that the light from the fires would drive the evil spirits away, and they dressed in costumes made of animal hides to fool “the bad guys”. To help the GOOD spirits, they carved lanterns out of vegetables in order to light their way into the world.

After the Romans conquered the Celts, they adopted many of the ancient Celtic celebrations, including Samhain. The Romans modified the celebration to include several other pagan celebrations, and changed the name to All Hallows Day. However, in about 700 A.D., Pope Gregory III changed the date of the celebration from October 31 to November 1, and changed the name to All Saints Day.

(There is an unusual twist to All Saints Day "south of the border", where the dead are commemorated on both November 1 and November 2. In most regions of Mexico, children are commemorated on November 1 in a festival known as Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and adults are commemorated on Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead). Ironically enough, both celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous pagan cultures of Mexico nearly 3000 years ago.)

The day remained a religious holiday for hundreds of years, but by the mid-1800’s, it had evolved into a day that resembled a communal celebration. In the mid 1800’s, the Irish potato famine brought millions of Irish people to America, along with their communal celebration activities. At this point, the celebrations included dressing in costumes, but the medieval practice of going door to door asking for food or money was still dormant.

By the early 1920’s, Halloween pranks and mischief (such as outhouse tipping) had evolved into more sinister occurrences, such as vandalism, property damage, and even physical assaults. Schools and communities developed a concept similar to “trick or treating” to counter “the bad guys”, and the Boy Scouts also got involved in similar projects.

The first recorded community celebration of Halloween occurred in Anoka, Minnesota in 1920, which has caused that city to call itself the “Halloween Capitol of the World”, but the first recorded us of the phrase “trick or treat” was in 1934, when it appeared in a Portland, Oregon newspaper.

Now that you know more about the historical background of Halloween, you’re probably wondering how celebration of the day can turn into a love story.

The best way to answer that question is to let Belfast native Van Morrisson answer it for you:

Happy New Year

Who knows? This could be a magic time for you as well.

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