Time to ward off those evil spirits and welcome the good ones!
Halloween is generally linked to the festival of Samhain or Samuin (‘Sow-en’) which is derived from old Irish and means ‘summers end’ – or the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Partly a festival of the dead, the ancient Celts believed the border between this and the otherworld became thin on Samhain allowing spirits, good and evil, to pass through.
Family ancestors were to be welcomed and honoured whilst harmful spirits had to be warded off, and costumes and masks were used to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit, thereby avoiding danger.
In old English the word ‘Hallow’ meant ‘sanctify’, and All Hallows Day is intended to honour all Saints in heaven, known or unknown, and used to be one of the most significant days of the church year.
Irish children used to light up carved out potatoes or turnips for Halloween. They remembered Jack, a shifty villain so wicked that neither God nor the Devil wanted him, and rejected by both he wandered the world seeking a place to rest – his only warmth a shining candle in an old turnip.
The Irish famine during the mid-1800s lead to mass immigration to the Americas, and these immigrants brought their traditions of Halloween and Jack o’Lanterns with them. Turnips were not as readily available and the American pumpkin became Jack’s new home!
Trick or Treat
Trick or treating has various origins. During Samhain the Druids believed that the dead would play tricks on mankind causing panic and destruction. The spirits had to be appeased and country people would give the Druids food as they visited their homes. Early Christian beggars would also walk from village to village on All Souls Day begging for ‘soul cakes’. The more cakes received the more prayers they would say on behalf of the dead relatives thereby expediting a soul’s passage to heaven.
Today it’s a bit different… eeks! :-)
In early times people wore masks after disasters believing the demons who brought their misfortune would become frightened. Even after the festival of Samhain had merged with Halloween Europeans still felt uneasy, and food was stored in preparation for the winter and the house was kept snug and warm. The jealous ghosts were outside, and those who went out after dark often wore masks to avoid being recognised.
Woooooh – happy Halloween, have fun!