As Halloween approaches us frighteningly fast, preparations are beginning for many activities, celebrations and festivities.
But amid all the exhilarating Halloween frenzy that we have so long been accustomed to, we often forget the true meaning behind why we are really celebrating.
There is indeed a meaningful history, for at the roots of this ancient holiday are 2000 years of European-bred traditions, customs and rituals that evolved into Halloween as we know it today.
The actual concept of Halloween is derived from an early Celtic holiday called Samhein (pronounced sow-in) that took place at the beginning of the winter season on Oct. 31. This day marked the end of summer and the end of food abundance and plant vitality for farmers.
Spirits of the dead were believed to roam freely. On the day known as “The Day of the Dead,” living relatives would help their dead loved ones complete a safe journey to the afterlife.
People would paint or carve scary faces on gourds and turnips and disguise themselves in outlandish costumes to scare away the evil spirits that were also thought to be wandering the earth that night.
The Catholic Church, angered by these pagan practices, sought to eliminate them. Pope Gregory decided to declare a new festival of religious observance called All Saint’s Day, a day in which every saint would be honored.
A few hundred years down the line, its date was changed so that it would fall on the same day as Samhein.
As part of the custom of All Saints Day, people would dress up in a costume that represented a saint, and young men would go door-to-door begging for food to feed the town’s poor.
As the years went by, the customs of Samhein and All Saints Day began to merge and were no longer considered two separate festivals, but rather one joint holiday called All Hollow’s Day.
When the Irish population began immigrating to America in the mid-1800s, they brought with them the many European customs of All Hollow’s Day. These customs combined with an existing American tradition called “Autumn’s Play.”
“Autumn’s Play” is a celebration in which people gather to sing, feast, light bonfires and watch children parade in costume.
These two festivals shaped present-day Halloween and all of the spooky phenomena that we enjoy today.
Gina Sicilia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org