by Eric Brown
Today class, we will be taking a deeper look at the most awesome of all the holidays … Halloween!
Halloween isn’t exactly the new kid on the block when it comes to celebrated holidays and currently incorporates numerous traditions from its long and varied history. The word “Halloween” dates back to around 1745, meaning “hallowed evening” or “holy evening”. The actual origin of the holiday goes back even further with pre-Christian roots as a Celtic festival of the dead called Samhain, pronounced Sah-win.
The Samhain festival was a big deal for the Celts. To them, it marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the ‘darker half’ of the year. More importantly they believed that, during this time, the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead overlapped, allowing all manner of beings to run amuck: ghosts, fairies and demons. Giant bonfires were lit to help honor their dead and help guide them on their own journey into the otherworld, as well as keep the more mischievous beings away.
Just about every Halloween tradition that is celebrated today can be traced back to Samhain, the most recognizable and tasty tradition being that of trick-or-treating and wearing costumes. Trick-or-treating has many origins that came together to form the custom we know today. Gaelics wore costumes as a means to imitate or disguise themselves from wandering spirits. Kids in Scotland would go out masked or painted, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. And in Wales men would dress up as fierce creatures called Gwrachod.
Jack-o-lanterns also have a varied history. People that dressed up, or “guisers”, in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands made their jack-o-lanterns from turnips or squashes and used them as illumination. Some placed their hollowed vegetable with carved faces of spirits and goblins on windowsills to keep harmful spirits at bay.
So when you’re trying to decide what to carve on your pumpkin or what to dress up as to go out trick-or-treating, just remember that you are participating in an awesome holiday that is a combination of traditions and beliefs that is thousands of years old. Now go out and scare away those evil spirits!