In my neighborhood, the leaves are finally gaining the brilliance of autumn --- golds, oranges, scarlets, and several maples that made me stop in my tracks to take a photo and admire -- a candy apple red so incredibly gorgeous they brought me to tears.
There is a marvelous quote by Albert Camus: 'Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.' And I couldn't agree more.
We celebrate Halloween today - tricks and treats for the young folks, ghosts and goblins, pumpkins and carvings, and dinner with friends. I'm reprinting an article I wrote years ago on the origins of Halloween -- enjoy!
And remember to be generous -- prosperity may follow!
The Origins of HalloweenThe Origins of Halloween
By: Lin Frye
Hobgoblins, ghosts, black cats, pumpkins, haystacks, scarecrows,
larger-than-life cartoon characters, and more “other worldly” figures parade around the streets, knocking on doors and begging “Trick or Treat!” Each fall the holiday many children, and lately adults, look forward to is Halloween … but where did our traditional observances come from?
Most folklore authorities agree that Halloween as we know it began as a combination of druidic practices and classical Roman religious beliefs. During the second century B.C., the Celtic communities of Northern and Western Europe, especially in Ireland and Scotland, celebrated their year’s end on October 31, the eve of “Samhain (“summer’s end”). This event was marked with agrarian festivals that celebrated the ending of the year (with foods such as nuts and apples). After grains had been gathered the sun was thanked for the harvest. At the same time, the sun was “honored” in hopes that the winter would not be too severe and would return in the spring. “Samhain” was an occasion for feasting since the harvested foods were often abundant.
It was also on this feast night, that townsfolks extinguished the fires in their hearths and met at the center of town. The priests would alight the sacred oak to kindle a new fire in honor of the sun god and to frighten away any lurking evil spirits. Each family head of household would receive an ember from the sacred fire so that he could kindle a new fire in his own hearth to protect the household throughout the year.
The Celts also believed that on October 31, the lord of the dead assembled the souls of those persons who passed away during the year. Since it was also believed that on this day the souls of the dead played tricks on the living, the druids offered sacrifices to appease the souls and protect the survivors.
Our modern Halloween practices reflect some of the influences from the Roman festival honoring “Pomona,” the goddess of fruit and nuts. A harvest festival was held November 1 to thank Ponona for the harvest bounty. Today, many of our Halloween decorations and foods include seasonal varieties of these crops.
It took centuries to incorporate October 31 into the Christian calendar. During the fourth through seventh centuries, the idea of honoring numerous martyrs and saints grew out of the fact that there were fewer days in the calendar than there were saints to worship. Pope Gregory III placed a single day in the church calendar to celebrate all the saints. This day occurred during the
spring of the year. However, during the reign of Pope Gregory IV, he placed All Saints Day and the vigil All Hallows’ Eve on November 1 and October 31 respectively. Historians believe this was done to offset the paganisms of the old “Samhain” rites. Nonetheless, the Christianizing of the Halloween observances took even more time.
Customs of pagan origins continued to flourish in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of England well into the 18th century, and even later in some places. Outside of the Church, folks still held the belief that Halloween was the gathering time for unruly spirits, including witches and those with evil intent. Common practices continued as folks believed the “spirits” were out on Halloween stealing milk, playing pranks, and destroying crops. To allay their
fears of these spirits, people would gather in groups and make strange or loud noises, to keep the evil spirits away. As they wiled away the time during this fearful night, they played games, such as bobbing for apples, and feasted on new crops that included the traditional fruit and nuts.
Halloween was also considered the time of prophecy, and various “discoveries” could be made that night. For instance, young women would divine their marriage prospects by placing nuts in the fireplace coals, naming one nut for her and the other two for admirers. If one of the admirer’s nuts burned quietly besides the woman’s, it meant that the gentleman would remain true. If, however, one of those named nuts split, it meant no lasting happiness with that individual.
Another discovery was made when young people went in pairs into a field of cabbages. The shape of the cabbage and the size of the vegetable they selected indicated the appearance of their future husband or wife.
While most of these earlier beliefs and observances have disappeared, many others have survived with the European settlers in the new world. Through time and changes, many of these former traditions were revamped and revitalized. In pioneer days, some Americans celebrated Halloween with corn-popping parties, taffy pulls and hayrides. With the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s and the influence of great numbers of Irish immigrants, Halloween mischief of the “fairy folk” or “little people” came to America. Instead of using pumpkins, which were unavailable in Ireland, the Irish used oversized rutabagas, turnips and potatoes to carve into hideous faces and light with candles to be used as lanterns during Halloween. In fact, the name “Jack-o-Lantern” is reputed to have come from an Irish tale of a man named Jack who was famous for being stingy and drinking too much. In several encounters with the Devil, Jack tricked him, making the Devil very angry. When Jack finally grew old and died, he was banned from Heaven because of his past behavior and banned from Hades because of all his pranks. Jack, in desperation, begged the Devil for a live coal to light his way out of the dark. Jack put the coal in a turnip he was eating at the time, and according to myth, was condemned to roam the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.
By the late 1800s, Halloween had become a national observance in the US. Traditions had been altered enough to recognize the parties, dressing in costumes and trick or treating that we do today. Though not all folklorists agree as to where trick or treating came from, one suggestion is that this custom came to the US when European peasants went from house to house asking for
money to buy items for a Halloween feast and demanding that contributions be given to them. If donors were liberal, good fortune was assured to the giver. However, if the donors were stingy, then threats were made and pranks carried out.
A drive around the area assures us that Halloween observances are alive and well. Decorations of haystacks, scarecrows, black cats, witches and the like spice up many neighborhoods and shops. And on the night of October 31, we’ll hear the ghosts and goblins knocking on our doors threatening “Trick or Treat!”
Remember to be generous … prosperity may follow!