Halloween is the biggest holiday in October. It is a holiday that has been around for a very long time. Your ancestors probably celebrated either Halloween or All Hallows Eve (which it was previously called). The history of All Hallows Eve is rather interesting!
The origin of All Hallows Eve goes back to an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). The American Folklore Center describes Samhain as the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. If you have Celtic heritage, it is very likely that someone in your family tree celebrated Samhain.
The Celtic festival of Samhain corresponded to November 1 on the calender we use today. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that Samhain was a time when the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living (more so than any other time of the year).
Celebrations included sacrificing fruits and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead. The bonfires also served the function of aiding the ghosts of the dead on their journey and keeping them away from the living people.
In the Sixth Century, Pope Gregory I sent a letter to Bishop Mellitus. According to the BBC, that letter included the suggestion that pagan holidays essentially be converted into ones that serve a Christian purpose. Samhain was one of the holidays that was selected.
All Hallows Eve, which has also been called All Saints Day, is a Christian holiday that takes place on October 31 every year. It is the holiday that falls right before All Hallows Day, which is celebrated on November 1 every year. In the Eight Century, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all the saints. From then on, November 1 was officially All Saints Day.
In Old English, the word “hallowed” meant holy and/or sanctified. Over time, this holiday started being called Hallowe’en. Christians celebrated All Hallows Eve by praying and fasting prior to the feast day. The purpose of the day was to honor all the saints that had not been given a festival day of their own.
Today, Halloween is celebrated in ways that are predominantly secular. Children dress in costume and go trick-or-treating (a practice that has its own history). We carve pumpkins and buy lots of pre-packaged candy to hand out on Halloween night. Yes, there are some who still celebrate Samhain and some who still celebrate All Hallows Eve. There are also many who celebrate Halloween and have no interest in the holiday’s history.
Image by Sharon on Flickr.
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