Before fall finally turns to winter, before the last leaves come down – before we re-set our clocks at the end of Daylight Savings Time this coming weekend – we celebrate Halloween.
A time of superstition, magic, mysticism, but also just plain, clean fun for many of us, and especially the young ones around us. Now with my young son, I have a newfound interest in Halloween, so I wanted to learn more about how it came to be. I knew there must be much more to the story than buying candy and dressing up!
Halloween made it onto our calendar thanks to Pope Gregory III, who, in the eighth century, integrated the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-een) into the Christian calendar. Samhain was really the Celtic New Year – in the homeland of the Celts, modern Great Britain and Ireland, the harvest was complete by then and the long, cold, infertile winter months began. Fittingly, Pope Gregory made Samhain the Day of the Dead (still observed by Christians to this day) – and the night before, All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Granted, there is no proof that the Popes ever trick-or-treated, but most other Halloween traditions like the bonfires, costumes, fortune telling and sweet foods – candy – still pay homage to their Celtic roots.
As a pagan tradition absorbed into the canon, Halloween had a rough start in early, Puritan America, but it did take hold in the South, and later the frontier, where it meshed with Native American beliefs and traditions - in particular regarding ghosts and life after death. At this point, it became a distinctly American celebration. With the arrival of more and more Catholic immigrants in the middle of the 19th century, Halloween began to spread through the nation, and with that, soon became a secular holiday.
Trick-or-treating by children is really the newest of its traditions, barely a hundred years old. Before that, it was common to leave treats outside for the ghosts to eat – but in true American spirit, we are now giving them directly to the final consumer!
Happy Halloween! Wishing you a wonderful evening of masks, costumes, pumpkins, and sweet treats!