Monday, October 8, 2012

Legend Post #11 -- Halloween

The black cat, along with dogs, toads, and other small animals
were believed to be Familiars -- demons in animal form
sent by the devil to assist witches and wizards.
October's here, and with that month, comes the anticipation of the widely enjoyed holiday of Halloween. Costumes and candy -- what could be better?

Obviously, Halloween has a rather glaring dark side. Monsters, ghosts, black magic, and undead. While not the main focus, fear and evil are certainly a large part of the Halloween tradition today.

But why? Where did it all come from?

Not surprisingly, this holiday has evolved greatly over time, originating with the Celts.

Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts, who lived in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, had a festival commemorating the end of the year. Their New Year was November 1, and this festival was called Samhain, pronounced sow-en. The end of their year signaled the end of summer, the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of a long, hard winter that often caused many deaths of animals and people. Weaker livestock were often killed and eaten during this holiday, since most likely, they would not survive the winter anyway. Because of this, and the cruel winter to come, this time of year signified death to the Pagan Celtics. They believed the night before the New Year, that the wall between the living and the dead was open, allowing spirits of the dead, both good and bad, to mingle among the living.

From the beginning, Halloween has been rooted in pagan religion and death. It is interesting to see how the circumstances of life dictated the various traditions and holidays. Much of life revolved around the seasons. It seems like the only thing nowadays that is dictated by the seasons is fashion, but long ago, the seasons were forces had the power to determine one's very destiny.

As time passed and outside influences became stronger, Samhain evolved, growing closer to the form of the holiday we celebrate now.

Samhain was considered a magical holiday, and there are many stories about what the Celtics practiced and believed during this festival. Faeries were believed to roam the land during Samhain, dressed as beggars asking for food door to door. Those that gave food to the faeries were rewarded, while those that did not were punished by the faeries. This is reported to be the first origin of the modern "trick or treat" practice.

In the First century A.D., the Roman Empire had taken over most of the Celtic lands. The Romans had two festivals also celebrated at the same time of year as Samhain. One was Feralia, also in late October, was the Roman day honouring the dead. The second festival was for Pomona, the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. Pomona's symbol was the apple. These two festivals were combined with Samhain in the Celtic lands during the four hundred years the Roman Empire ruled over the Celts. The goddess Pomona's apple might be the root of the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples.

Over the next several hundred years, Christianity had spread to include the lands inhabited by the Celtics and the Romans, but the festival of Samhain was still celebrated by the people. The Christian church reportedly did not like a festival with Pagan roots practiced by Christians, so a replacement was needed. Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as All Saints Day to honour dead church saints and martyrs. Samhain continued to be celebrated, so in 835 A.D., Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to November 1, probably to take attention away from the Pagan Samhain festival and replace it. Since All Saints Day was sanctioned by the church, and related to the dead, the church was happy, but many Pagan traditions of Samhain continued to be practiced, including bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costume. All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows, or All Hallowmas (Hallowmas is Old English for All Saints Day). Since Samhain was celebrated the night before November 1, the celebration was known as All Hallows Eve, and later called Halloween. In the year 1000 A.D., the church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, to honour the dead who were not saints, and they eventually became combined and celebrated as Hallowmas.

As you can see, Halloween has been pulled and tugged from all angles by the powers that happened to be at the time. This is true, I believe, for many holidays celebrated today. Eventually, the Reformation came about. Since Protestants do not have saints, the celebration of All Saint's Day was abandoned.

The majority of settlers that later formed the United States were largely Protestant. As such, Halloween was only practiced in some Southern states, and didn't make a mass appearance in America until the mid 1800s, when Catholic Irish families fleeing the potato famine in their homeland immigrated, bringing their traditions and holidays with them.

By the mid 1800's, immigration increased, and many Irish immigrants, mostly Catholics fleeing the potato famine, brought many Halloween traditions with them. Jack o'lanterns found a new face, the pumpkin, which was very plentiful in the New World. Catholics and Episcopalians sought to preserve their traditions, so started an effort in the late 1800's to popularize and make their holidays known to the general population. By campaigning to put these holidays (Halloween and All Saints Day) on public calendars, magazines and newspapers started to publicize these holidays, and soon became popular in the United States more as a community and family holiday, rather than one of great religious and supernatural importance.

By the mid twentieth century, Halloween turned into a secular holiday, community centered with parties city-wide, parades, and great costumes. Halloween is mostly aimed to children, but young and old enjoy this holiday, with events and parties for both children and adults. Starting in 1950, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) started a campaign for children to collect money at Halloween for underprivileged children around the world. Halloween is the United States' second largest commercial holiday, spending approximately $6.9 billion a year.
[exerpts taken from ]

So now you see where Halloween has its roots. Knowing this, it's easy to see why the fascination with darkness comes into the limelight around October.

There are many who care not to look into the origins of this holiday, accepting the modern view of the holiday. There are many who also reject Halloween because of what it is today, and some who can make a good guess at the origins without needing to look it up. In Christian circles, Halloween is one of the more controversial topics, and I have seen many various ways of dealing with it.

Being Christian myself, and devoutly so, I have no great love for the glorification of evil that comes out around this time of year. It gets under my skin. However, I do and always have enjoyed dressing up, and anyone who knows me can tell you without hesitation that I have a major sweet tooth. Costumes and candy; what every kid thinks Halloween is really about. So while I find the ghouls and witches, screams and fear distasteful and even damaging, I don't condemn the other aspect of the holiday. The aspect where imagination comes to life for the entire country once every year, and Mom allows us to buy bag upon bag of candy that is meant to be for trick or treaters but gets eaten more often than not by the kids who take turns manning the bowl.

I think the Catholics had the right idea, in a sense. Practicing a holiday that had great importance to the culture of the time, yet in a Christian manner. In our house, October 31st is called 'Dress-Up Day'. It is the day when everyone dresses up, though not everyone does it in a Godly manner, and gets candy. We participate only to a certain point, condemning the evil but not ignoring the good that can be claimed.

As I said, this is a controversial topic, and I'm sure there are many who would disagree with our way of handling this holiday, or even with our entire perspective on the holiday as a whole. All I can say is that, as Christians, we ought to do what we believe is -- not what we want to be -- acceptable and pleasing to God, based on His Word. We are all unique; we will not come to the same conclusions, but if in our hearts we can say with confidence that we believe we are pleasing God with our choices, then that is acceptable. That is what He commands.

For non-Christians.... Well, there isn't much I can say besides what I've already said, is there?

Dia duit,

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