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The Many Faces of Halloween

Looking back at the history and origins of Halloween, you can see that it is multi-faceted, being very rich with culture, traditions, and beliefs. It was stemmed from different groups of people from different areas of the world, so it is no wonder that Halloween has become one great mixture of all of their traditions and customs passed down through the ages. Here, we will discuss some of these facets of Halloween, including a summary of its origins and history, the meaning behind its name, some famous Halloween traditions, and even an interesting superstition from earlier times.

Some say the origins of Halloween trace back as far as 4000 B.C. This means that our ancient ancestors were just starting to reach the Early Bronze Age, developing written languages and the pottery wheel. Halloween has come quite a long way! Moving on, the Celts invaded Ireland sometime around 350 B.C., before Christianity swept across Europe. These ancient people celebrated harvest time with four festivals, known as “fire festivals.” One of these in particular is called Samhain, which is properly pronounced as “Sow-en” or “Sow-een.” It is said that the Samhain festival (October 31 – November 2) was a time when the Celts could celebrate the end of Summer’s season and the beginning of the Celtic New Year.

Next, the Celts were introduced to the Roman ‘Festival of Pomona,’ when the Romans began to occupy the same areas of Ireland as the Celts. Pomona is the Roman goddess of fruit trees, orchards, and gardens. This Roman festival was celebrated on November 1 and was soon merged together with the Celtic festival, Samhain. Later sometime between 314 C.E. and 316 C.E. the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire as Christianity. From there, Christianity began spreading across the lands and the ancient Celtic and Roman festivities were ended.

Like the festival of Samhain, you often hear of other name associations with Halloween, such as All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, All Hallows Eve, and Hallowe’en. Let’s look further into the origins of these names and how they are connected with Halloween. All Saints’ Day was originally a day, May 13, when the Christians who died in the sake of their religious beliefs were honored. Later, in the seventeenth century C.E., Pope Gregory III recommenced the day to be on November 1, which has remained unchanged since. In 837 C.E., Pope Gregory IV officially assigned the All Saints’ Day celebration to commemorate all of the saints and Christians who dedicated their lives to the church.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are part of a two day mass of the Roman Catholic Church, called Hallowmas, to honor the dead. All Saints’ Day has also been referred to as All Hallows Day. The evening before All Hallows Day, October 31, became known as All Hallows Even. This is how we came to know the name ‘Hallowe’en,’ and later today, ‘Halloween.’

Now that we’ve covered the origins of Halloween and some of its history, wouldn’t you like to know more about some of our current Halloween traditions and why we have them? Here are some interesting tidbits of information about some of our favorite customs, such as lighting jack o’ lanterns, trick-or-treating, and dressing up in Halloween costumes! In olden days, the jack o’ lantern was made from such vegetables as turnips, beets, and potatoes. The name jack o’ lantern is sometimes referenced to the Irish tale about Stingy Jack or ‘Jack of the Lantern,’ in which a young man is faced with making a deal with the devil, only to be left to wander the earth with a lantern made from a turnip and illuminated by a glowing ember. The idea of trick-or-treating on Halloween night is dated back to the ancient days of the Celts, who would leave food offerings out for the dead. And, according to European folklore, it was custom for children to go from house to house to perform with rhymes and in return they would receive special “treats,” such as apples or pastries. According to many historical references, trick-or-treating first became a customary practice in America during the 1930’s. Its roots stem from the Irish and Scottish custom of “guising,” when children dressed up in various disguises going from door to door.

And, with the development of Halloween customs, also came certain superstitions. Here, I leave you with a rather interesting one! This superstition is that young women who had not yet married could use apples to predict who their future husband would be. The apple was first peeled in one long strip, then by tossing the apple peel over the shoulder they could view which shape of letter the peel formed to see the initial of their future husband’s first name!

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