Where did the Halloween traditions come from that we celebrate today? To answer that let’s go back to the historic roots of this popular modern holiday. It started in the Celtic speaking locations of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man where the last harvest was celebrated before the beginning of their New Year. Samhain (pronounced sow-een) was their name for Summer’s end. They celebrated agricultural seasons, for planting and harvesting, which were based on the solstices and equinoxes. (Many cultures have different calendars, seasons, and holidays.)
In ancient time the Celtic New Year, based on the medieval Gaelic calendar, started on what in our calendar would be October 31. They celebrated Samhain. It was their time to celebrate the feast of the last harvest and begin a new year. It was also a time of preparation for the long, hungry winter.
Their rituals were based on their beliefs. They thought that the invisible veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead was very thin at this time. They feared that the ghosts and spirits would come and disturb the living. So they created traditions that were meant to ward off the undesirable spirits. They would put food from their crops and beverages outside to appease the spirits. They carved distorted faces on turnips or rutabagas, lit them with a candle and carried these lanterns to scare away bad spirits. And they would disguise themselves to prevent the scary spirits from recognizing them and seeking revenge for some past misunderstanding or injury.
Deceased family member’s spirits were welcomed in the home with a place set at the feasting table and beside the fire for them. Afterwards the living would enjoy a feast, play games and do divining rituals with questions regarding death, prosperous crops and marriage for the coming year. Other activities involved apple bobbing and nut roasting. They would light large bonfires at this time to symbolize the sun as they were entering the darkest time of the year.
Christianity changed the name of the Celtic holiday to All Saints Day. This holiday honored the saints, and remembered deceased relatives, church members and friends. Ringing church bells, sharing food with the poor and praying for dead were all part of the customs the Anglican colonists brought to America. Our word, Halloween, is a contraction of “Hallowed Evening” from the Christian practice of remembering the saints on November 1 each year.
When people discovered pumpkins, native to northeast Mexico and southeast United States this tasty fruit soon replaced the hard-to-carve turnip, rutabaga and beet. Instead of disguises to hide from “evil spirits”, we can now buy ready-made costumes to be whomever we want to be that night! It is all about fun. The main food associated with Halloween in America now is candy. Bags of it are everywhere! You can buy plastic jack-o-lanterns. It has become very commercial, like all our holidays.
I like the hand-made aspects of preparing for Halloween. I enjoy the creativity and fun of carving pumpkins, making seasonal wreaths for my door and creating a new costume each year. With craft stores full of the materials and clerks with crafting experience, you can easily learn how to make spooky fun for your family and home. DIY