Halloween: A celebration of Celtic Tradition, Christian Dogma, Victorian Mischief, Costumes and Free Candy
Long before the modern Halloween the Ancient Irish and Europeans were celebrating Samhain, pronounced SOW-WIN, a great druidic (Druids were Celtic Priests) festival that marked the boundary between our world and the spirit world. In druidic times Samhain. (This marks the Celtic beginning of the New Year and winter. This celebration starts at sunset on October 31 to sunset November 1. Samhain, means November in the Celtic culture, it is the Gateway to winter, where the veils are especially thin between these worlds of the seen and unseen. The Celts called the unseen realms the ‘Otherworld’, a place of beauty, rest, and renewal.- Cherokee Billie) marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year.
The Celtic New Year’s Eve was a mysterious moment which belonged neither to the past nor the present. Samhain was considered the third and last harvest of the growing year. Fruit and nuts were the last gifts of nature to be gathered and the apple in particular was the symbol of this harvest. Traditionally great bonfires were lit at Samhain upon which in druidic times may have been the site of human sacrifices to ensure that the winters reign was not unending.
FEILE NA MARBH - the dead walk abroad At Samhain the spirits of the dead sought the warmth of the fireside and communion with their living kin. This time was also known as Féile na Marbh (the Feast of the Dead). As the veil between worlds thinned, all manner of spirits walked abroad at Samhain, including those of loved ones passed on. An empty chair by the fire was often left free along with a candle in the window to guide the ghosts home for comfort and seek their blessing for the coming year. In time the candle was placed inside a turnip lantern upon which a demon’s face was carved to scare off unfriendly spirits. The tradition of wearing of costumes and masks at Samhain developed to deceive these same unfriendly spirits lest they recognised you and called you to the Otherworld before your time. Nervous living folk would attempt to appease the wandering spirit with gifts of fruit and nuts, which may be the origin of the ubiquitous treat or treating.
APPLE MAGIC Samhain was also a time for divination and apples were predominant among the tools used to tell the future. Bobbing for apples or snapapple was used as a race among unmarried contestants – the winner who took the first bite of the apple was destined to be the first to wed, alternatively the winner was destined for good luck in the coming year. An unmarried girl would attempt to peel an apple in one long strip and cast the peel over her shoulder. The peel would reveal the initial of her future husband. Before the stroke of midnight a person would sit in a room in front of a mirror lit by only one candle and cut an apple into nine pieces. With their back to the mirror they would ask the question they wanted answered and eat eight of the apple pieces. The ninth would be thrown over their left shoulder. Then they would turn and look over the same shoulder into the mirror where they would see a symbol or image that would answer their question.
BARM BRACK A fruit loaf called barm brack was baked at Samhain with tokens wrapped in greaseproof paper. If you found a token in your slice of barm brack this also foretold your future. The type of tokens varied by family but common examples were: A ring – marriage within the year A silver coin – riches A rag or pea – poverty A stick – an unhappy marriage In some areas Colcannon, a dish of mashed potatoes, cabbage with either ham or bacon, was cooked with similar tokens placed into the dish.
HOW SAMHAIN BECAME HALLOWEEN With the coming of Christianity to Ireland in the 7th century Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs, to replace the pagan festival of the dead. It was originally celebrated on May 13th but in 834 Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to 1st November and it became the opportunity to remember all Saints who had died and all of the dead in the Christian community. October 31st became All Hallows Eve (or Hallow e’en)Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated each year on October 31, and Halloween 2019 occurs on Thursday, October 31. - YouTube
Until the Victorian era, these two traditions continued in their own right. However, since the Victorian times, these two traditions seem to have merged together a little, and the Christian’s Halloween has absorbed some of the darker aspects of Celtic Samhain. This seems to be why today we have the spooky festivities on Halloween.
It is important to note, that Halloween and Samhain are still two separate celebrations, the latter being mostly for Celtic Pagan followers. However, some do argue that the Christians tried to ‘Christianise’ the Pagan Samhain with their own Hallowe’en, although this is disputed.
Why do we celebrate Halloween?Today we tend to celebrate Halloween because it falls on the eve of All Saint’s (Hallows) day where all saints are honoured. But also this celebration is mixed with the Pagan Samhain, where the spirits of the dead can rise up and walk with the land of living. It just so happens that these two rituals fall on the same date, where Christian and Pagan celebrations intertwine.- DISCOVER MIDDLE AGES.COM
For Further Reading about the evolution of Halloween:
Festival of the Dead (FEILE NA MARBH)- WIKIPEDIA
Barm Brack- Wikipedia
Tricks and Treats: The Story of Halloween
Halloween: Origins and Traditions
English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night
Mischief Night -WIKIPEDIA