Samhain: The History of Halloween

Halloween is an Anglo-Saxon festival celebrated on the night of October 31 and traces its origins to the Celtic celebrations, which was taken over in the United States in markedly macabre forms with which we know it today. The practice has since spread to other countries of the world and its manifestations are very different as it goes from parades to the games of children, running from house to house reciting the formulaic blackmail of trick-or-treat.

The feature of the festival is the symbolism related to death and the occult, which is typical of the symbolically carved pumpkin, derived from the character of Jack-o'-lantern. Since time immemorial, among the ancient Celts, the year was divided into two periods: the period of birth and the lushness of nature and that of lethargy and stagnation. Life and death that were celebrated in two very special days Beltane and Samhain, which roughly means summer's end.

As per Indian mythology in ancient times the month of Margashirsha, the ninth of the Vedic Hindu calendar, was a very auspicious month. People on Margashirsha Amavasya used to wear white clothes, pray to their ancestors and offer food and donations.

Samhain marked the Celtic New Year with a homage to ancestors and was placed in mid-fall and was celebrated on the 11th new moon in a calendar year while Beltane, the feast of life and nature, fall around May. The Celts were mainly pastoral people, unlike other European cultures, such as those of the Mediterranean basin. The rhythms of their lives, therefore, marked the time that cattle ranching imposed, several times from the fields.

At the end of the summer season, the shepherds brought their flocks to the valley, to prepare for the arrival of winter and the beginning of the new year. For the Celts, in fact, the new year began on when the hot season officially ended and began the season of darkness and cold, and to shelter from the cold, build tools and spend their evenings telling stories and legends.

The transition from summer to winter and from the old to the new year was celebrated with long celebrations in the Samhain. In Ireland the festival was known as Samhein, or La Samon, the feast of the Sun, but the concept is the same.

This time of year the fruits of the fields which although not the main activity of the Celts, were still cultivated were insured, the cattle had been well fed fresh air and mountain pastures and stocks for the winter they were prepared. The community, therefore, could rest and thank the gods for their generosity. This was done through the Samhain, which also served to exorcise the arrival of winter and its dangers, uniting and strengthening the community thanks to a rite of passage that propitiate the favor of the gods.

The importance that the population attributed to the Celtic Samhain lies in their conception of time, seen as a circle divided into cycles the end of each cycle was considered very important and full of magic. Along with Samhain they were celebrated Lughnasadh, Beltane, Imbolc, Yule, Ostara, Litha and Mabon. The advent of Christianity has not entirely erased these holidays, but in many cases overlapped to them giving their content and different meanings from the original ones.

The death was the main theme of the party, in tune with what was happening in nature as during the winter season life seems to be silent, when in fact it renews. Hence it is understandable the combination of Samhain to the cult of the dead.

The Celts believed that on the eve of every new year the spirits join forces with the world of the living, thus causing the dissolution of the temporary laws of time and space and making sure that the afterlife is merged with the world of the living and allowing the wandering spirits to roam undisturbed on Earth.

Samhain was therefore a celebration that united the fear of death and spirits to joy of the celebrations for the end of the old year. During the night they were held rallies in the woods and hills to the ignition ceremony of the Holy Fire and animal sacrifices were made. Dressed in grotesque masks, the Celts returned to the village, lighting their way with lanterns made of carved onions, inside which were placed the embers of the Sacred Fire. After these rituals, the Celts celebrated for three days, disguised with skins of animals killed to frighten the spirits.

In Ireland spread the custom of lighting torches outside the doors and leave for the souls of the dead food and milk that would have made visits to their families, so they could refresh themselves and decide not to make jokes to the living.

The Romans also had a party similar to Samhain and was the one dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, which was the feast of the end harvest period, a kind of celebration of the end of the crop season, as thanks for gifts received from the earth or the feast of the dead called Parentalia.

With the conquest of Gaul by the Romans began an integration between populations and between customs and festivals of the two peoples. Samhain was celebrated in a variable way, according to the locality, in the corresponding days in late October and early November, and then acquire a common date to all who identified with night transition between October and November. The agricultural meaning of the holiday is added and better defined the spiritual afterlife festival feast of the dead world, which is the primary meaning of Samhain.

In this reality of pagan festival it was inserted with Pope Boniface IV the desire of the Catholic Church to bring to a Catholic religious significance to all extant pagan residues. Not being able to prohibit the pagan manifestations, because the deprivation of a festive occasion would trigger violent reactions among the people, the Pope worked to replace the old pagan festival with a new season of the Catholic press, creating the All Saints day, a public holiday, to honor all the saints, which recurred around the time of Samhain.

This did not eliminate Samhain, the pagan celebration but alongside the liturgical celebration. Two hundred years later the church had not been able to get rid of the pagan festival, Pope Gregory III then thought it well to match the feast of All Saints and then Halloween eve or All Hallows eve, that means the eve of All Saints with the day in which it was carried out the pagan festival.

In 840, under Pope Gregory IV, the Catholic Church officially established the feast of All Saints Day on November 1. Probably this choice was intended to create a continuity with the past, overlaying the new Christian holidays to the oldest. After Protestantism had broken the tradition of All Saints, in Anglo-Saxon countries, it continued to celebrate Halloween as a secular holiday. In the US, since the mid-nineteenth century, the feast spread especially due to Irish immigration to become, in the last century, a major US holiday.

Halloween was not completely removed, but was Christianized in some way, through the establishment of All Saints Day on November 1 and, later, the commemoration of the dead on November 2.

In recent years the Halloween festivities took consumerist character, with a gradual darkening of the original meanings. Celebrations lasting whole weekend are now typical in all states of Anglophone influence. So in the US, Ireland, Australia and the UK, Halloween is celebrated as a costume party, where costume party and thematic celebrations exceed the typical traditional value of trick or treat, in order to create a new tradition of fun, typical of a grown youth.

The development of objects and symbols associated with Halloween have grown up over time. For example the use of carving pumpkins with scary or grotesque expressions dates back to the tradition of carving turnips to make lanterns with which to remember the souls stuck in purgatory.

The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the squash native to the place, which was available in very large numbers and was much larger, thereby facilitating the work of carving. The American tradition of carving pumpkins dates back to 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, whereas it was associated specifically with Halloween towards the second half of the twentieth century.

Among the earliest works of Halloween they are found those of the Scottish poet John Mayne, who in 1780 wrote down both the Halloween pranks what fearful pranks ensue, both because of the supernatural was associated with that night Bogies (ghosts). There prevail even elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows. The houses are often decorated with these symbols around Halloween.

The symbolism of Halloween also includes topics such as death, the evil, the occult or monsters. Black, purple and orange are the traditional colors of this feast. It is a custom of Halloween that children go masked from house to house, asking for sweets and candies or some change with the question Trick or treat?.

The practice of dressing goes back to the Middle Ages and refers to the practice of late medieval alms , when poor people went door to door to All Saints Day and receiving food in return for prayers for their dead on the day of All Souls. For many Christian denominations the origins of Halloween are closely related to magic, witchcraft and Satanism, and then consider the party as a way of occult influence in people's lives. The Halloween emphasis is on fear, death, the spirits, witchcraft, about violence, about demons and evil.

Note that this party exists in Kabyle in Algeria, with a similar song Trick or monster. Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in China, but there has the ghost's Day.

In Mexico and India, the Day of the Dead is celebrated as Dia De Los Muertos and Mahalaya respectively. Karkidaka Vavu Bali is celebrated in the last month of the Malayalam calendar Karkada in Kerala. Vavu is the day of the dark moon and Bali is the name of the offer made to the ancestors. On the beach people prepare temporary altars, or low sandy platforms with offerings for the faithful to offer to the sea. The devotees sit on the sand, educated by a priest who distributes bunches of sacred grass, flowers, rice, mantra recitation and guidance to the proper execution of the rite.

On two plane leaves they are placed uncooked rice grains, the cooked rice, grass, flowers and other offerings. Devotees listen and recite prayers, then get up with the leaves of plantain closed kept high on the head and go toward the sea. While a group of faithful reaches the shore, others take their place and a new ritual begins. A continuous cycle of ceremonies starting at four until late morning. The most important places for Vavu Bali are the temple of Parashurama by the Karamana river near Trivandrum and at Papanasam beach at Varkala.

Portugal celebrate the Magusto, feast of chestnuts, between All Saints and St. Martin. Japan has its traditional festival of the dead the O-Bon. This is an opportunity to visit the graves of the dead and place offerings or flowers. This festival takes place from 13 to 15 August.

Halloween is celebrated in the Caribbean. In some parts of the British West Indies, there are celebrations in honor of Guy Fawkes Night that take place around Halloween. On the island of Bonaire , children of a city gathered in groups, and unlike other parts of the world, they celebrate Halloween in confectionery, instead of going door to door. The city of Richterswil hosts the ancient festival of Räbeliechtli on the 2nd Saturday of November where is paraded through the city carved turnips lit by a candle inside. This festival is part of the living traditions of Switzerland.

In Belgium, it was, in rural areas, similar traditions to those of Jack-O-Lantern. In Flanders, on the occasion of the Saint-Martin, the children dig beets and indeed it bore holes to figure a grimacing face lit by a candle placed inside beet. In Wallonia, these lanterns were called Grign 'Dints. These lanterns were made at harvest time which coincides with the beginning of autumn and the holidays of All Saints. This practice tends to disappear since the 1980s. Halloween began to be celebrated since the early 1990s.

In Lorraine, in France, the Rommelbootzennaat, night grimacing beets in Francique Lorraine is a tradition celebrated in Moselle the eve of All Saints, mostly in the Nied and the federal state of Saarland. On Halloween, children carved grimacing heads also in beets, vegetables whose harvest marks the end of the fields. Lit by candlelight, the heads are placed on windowsills, wells, walls of cemeteries or at cross roads to scare passers. This festival continued to be celebrated before the return to Europe of the Halloween fashion in the late 1990s.

In England, the Halloween party was once called the night of nutcrackers or the night of crisp apple. Families gathered around the fire telling stories while eating hazelnuts and apples . That day, the poor were given cakes called cakes of mind. Halloween has been criticized in England during the period of reforms to be opposed to the notion of predestination and its popularity has declined in the country.

In Ireland, Halloween is a very popular festival, known as Gaelic Oíche Shamhna literally the night of late summer, and celebrated for centuries. On the night of Halloween, children and adults dress up evil creatures (ghosts, zombies, witches, goblins), large fires are lit and fireworks are from all over the country.

A tradition that has survived to modern times in Ireland is the baking or buying a barmbrack (Bairin breac in Irish), a light fruit cake. A ring is placed in the cake before cooking. It is said that whoever finds the ring will find true love in the year. The pumpkin is not only a decorative appearance. The roasted seeds can be eaten and the flesh can be used to make the pie, the soup, the jam or bread. Other foods associated with the holiday, such as Colcannon in Ireland, the bonfire toffee in the UK, the Toffee Apple (Australia, Britain instead of love apples) the cider warm, Indian wheat roast, the donuts, and popcorn.

The characters commonly associated with Halloween are the ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, bats, owls, crows, vultures, haunted houses, cemeteries, pumpkin, Black Cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, werewolves and demons. Especially in the United States, the symbolism is inspired by classic horror films, with characters like Dracula, the monster of Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Mummy. Homes are often decorated with these symbols.

The orange and black are the colors traditionally associated with Halloween. These colors were adopted after the Halloween encounter with the ancient festival of the Día de Muertos, day of the dead celebrated in Mexico. In products and the latest images, colors purple, green and red can be found. The use of these colors is in part due to their use in commercials with respect to this party for over a century.

The celebrations of Samhain, and those religious and those folklore, originated from an ancient feast of Celtic paganism that is supposed to have also affected the popular celebration of Mahalaya. Traditionally it is believed that people divided the year into two parts Winter, whose beginning or new year was marked by the Samhain and summer, whose start was marked by Beltane. The Celts were mainly influenced by lunar cycles and the stars that marked the passing of the agricultural year that just started with Samhain in November, at the end of the harvests, when the ground was being prepared for the winter.

Samhain is a mythical-ritual feast that has obvious orgiastic religious aspects, breaking the traditional rules and rituals of atonement and fertilization.

In this way, the Celtic people began to not make more difference between the religious festival and the ancient Celtic festival so much so that in 1500, the two holidays became something unique and the original pagan significance was almost completely forgotten.