What Is Halloween?
So every year we buy pumpkins, fake spiders and cobwebs. We go to scare-fests and Halloween parties, we paint grotesque injuries on our faces, wear costumes and enjoy the excuse for a good night out.
But what IS Halloween? And where did it come from?
I mean, sure, any excuse to go out for a drink or two.. but why Halloween?
Well, this year I am in Dublin over Halloween and it seems to be a bigger deal here than it is at home. This got me thinking about where it came from, and why it is bigger in some places than others. Turns out, the roots of Halloween kind of come from Ireland, but much further back in history than I would have imagined!
So let’s start out about 2,000 years ago when the Celtic people of Ireland weren’t Catholic or Protestant but were Pagan. The ancient festival of Samhain was a celebration of the passing from summer to winter.At the time, the end of the summer and the start of a dark, cold, winter would have been a scary time, associated with death and sickness. It was believed that on this particular night the barriers between our world and the spirit world were very thin and the ghosts of the dead were able to pass through. For this reason the Pagans would wear animal skins and paint themselves to ward off the evil spirits and send them back to their world. They would also light fires to guide the good spirits and burn crops or sacrifice animals.
During the Roman period some Roman celebrations and traditions became blended with the celebration of Samhain. This celebration of the dead and of the spirit world started to incorporate the celebration of a Roman deity, Pomona, who was the goddess of fruit and trees. Since the symbol for Pomona is an apple, it is thought this could be where the tradition of apple bobbing became part of Halloween celebrations.
As Christianity spread through Celtic lands, it’s influence started to blend with old Celtic traditions and in 1000 AD, 1st November became All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows day, a day to honour the dead. The night before this (31st October) became known as All Hallows Eve when those who had died would pass back through to the world of the living and walk among them. Over time All Hallows Eve has developed into Halloween and with it the traditions have changed and developed through time. The remnants that remain seem to be the prevalence of ‘evil’ or scariness around Halloween, and the costumes – though I’m not sure many modern day Halloween costumes would scare evil spirits away!
For me though, the most interesting thing I discovered is that even in pagan times, vegetables such as turnips would be carved into scary faces and left on doorsteps to keep evil spirits away. I had assumed the carving of vegetables would have come much later!