Let's start with the words etymology. The word was first seen around the year 1745 and is, in fact of Christian origin. The word literally means "hallowed evening" or "holy evening". So how did All Hallows Eve become Halloween? This comes from Scotland. In Scots, the word "eve" is "even" and is contracted to "e'en" or "een". Henceforth All Hallows Even.....Halloween, or Holy Evening.
Now that we've established that we are in fact looking into the evolution of a CHRISTIAN HOLY HOLIDAY, let's dig a bit deeper, shall we?
Halloween is celebrated in a good many countries on October 31st. The Hallowed Evening is named such as that is is the night before The Feast of All Hallows Day, which is also known as All Saint's Day. It is also the the initiation of the triduum (a religious observance lasting three days) of Hallowmas. It is part of the Christian Church's Liturgical Year, also known as the Church Year, which is a cycle that determines when feast days, which includes the celebration of saints, are observed and also dictates what portions of Scripture are to be read. Easter is another of these triduums, which includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
So now that we've established that not only is Halloween a Christian Holy Holiday, but it is in fact part of a three day celebration known as Hallowmas, let's take a look at the whole thing to really get some perspective on it shall we? I give to you, a Midnight Cinephile look at Hallowmas. Let's break this Holy Celebration down day by day.
These days Halloween is putting up spooky decorations and passing out candy to the kiddies as they dress up in costumes, both scary and cute. It's a time when the older kids get a bit mischievous and toilet paper your yard, or if you are unlucky enough to have REALLY mean kids in your neighborhood, you might get some egg on your house. A lot of people watch horror movies to enhance the spooky spirit. There are also a good many people that throw big old Halloween parties for friends and family. But WHERE did this come from? How did it all start? You may be surprised....much of what is perceived as a celebration of evil is actually and evolution of the very practices and rituals that were designed to PROTECT us from evil.
Well, like everything else in this great melting pot of a country, Halloween as changed and mutated over the centuries as different cultures and customs have blended together. Perhaps the oldest of these customs is the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in or Sah-win, depending on your accent). Samhain, which literally means "Summer's End", marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year (which is how they often referred to winter). It was believed that around this time the Aos Si (spirits or fairies) could more easily access our world and were more active. The Aos Si were feared and respected. Offerings of food, drink and crops were left as a way to ensure that the people and crops would survive the winter. It was also said that the souls of the dead would visit their earthly homes at this time and places were set at the table and home fires were built to welcome them. Bonfires were lit as a symbol of the sun and were meant to hold back the darkness and evil forces.
There is also a pronounced Christian influence on the holiday. As earlier stated Halloween is the evening before All Hallows' Day on November 1st and All Souls' Day on November 2nd. Collectively known as Hallowmas or Hallowtide, these days are a time for honoring saints and praying for the recently departed. More on the next two days later.
By the 12th Century, it was customary for town criers to dress in black, ring bells and call on the Christian people to pray for the "poor souls". A custom known as "Souling" was customary as far back as the 15th century, in which small pastries known as Soul Cakes (also known as Harcakes in some places) were baked and then given to the poor and children as they went from door to door, singing and saying prayers for the dead. The folks who went door to door were known as "Soulers" and each Soul Cake they ate was to represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. Sounds a bit like trick or treating doesn't it? As far as the actual Phrase "Trick or Treat?" The earliest use of the phrase came from Canada in 1927 in Alberta. Trick or treating did not catch on in the U.S until 1934.
Dressing up in costumes is nothing new to the holiday however. As mentioned earlier, it was believed that on this night the dead could return. That's all fine and dandy if ya wanna see Uncle Larry once more, but unfortunately the gates didn't just open to the good souls who wanted to see loved ones. Souls looking for vengeance also walked the streets. To help protect themselves from any vengeance minded spirits, people would don masks and costumes to disguise themselves from harmful spirits. In the Middle Ages, churches would often display the relics of martyred saints. If a parish was too poor to to afford relics, the parishioners would instead dress up as saints. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, dressing up as monsters and going house to house saying "trick or treat" didn't start in the U.S until the 1930's.
It was believed that the dead in the churchyards would rise for the night as well and would dance on their graves. This was known as Danse Macabre, or the Dance of Death. It is depicted quite commonly as church decorations in cathedrals, monasteries and of course graveyards. The Danse Macabre was recreated by Christian children in villages who celebrated the vigil of All Saints. I think that this is one of the most important aspects. Why? Because death is the great equalizer, is it not? Regardless of what you believe on a spiritual level, two hundred years from now you and I will be exactly the same: D E A D. Whether ash or bone, we will be no more than a memory (if we're lucky) to those who have inherited the Earth. I will die. You will die. We ALL will die. No one gets off this merry-go-round alive.
|One of the many Danse Macabre pieces of art|
These are just a few of the MANY different customs and beliefs that fuel what we now know as Halloween. It is in fact, NOT a time of evil, deceit, witchcraft and devil worship. It is a Holy night when the dead can visit the living, be that good or bad. It is a time to honor the dead. It is a time for prayer and a time for preparation of the coming winter months....and of course it is All Hallows' Eve.....which leads us to:
All Hallows Day:
Also known as All Saints' Day, Solemnity of All Saints and The Feast of All Saints, it is a day to honor all saints known and unknown. The second day of Hallowmas begins at sunrise and ends at sundown.
All Saints day originated somewhere around 609 AD. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Ever since The Feast of the Dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated in Rome. The holiday was originally celebrated on May 13th, but was moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory III when he founded an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics of saints, martyrs and apostles. Coincidentally, the beginning of Samhain falls on the same day.
In Mexico, All Saints' Day coincides with the second day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) festival. This particular day is known as Dia de los Inocentes, or Day of the Innocents and it honors deceased children and infants.
In the Phillippines, it is known both as "Todos los Santos" (All Saints) and "Araw nl mga Patay" (Day of the Dead). Families will visit the graves of loved ones to clean and repair them. Offerings of prayer, flowers, candles and food are made. In modern times many families hold reunions at gravesites and play music and even sing karaoke!
All Souls Day:
Also known as The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed and The Feast of All Souls. It is the third day of Hallowmas and is celebrated on November 2nd.
As All Saints' Day honors all the saints, All Souls' Day is reserved for the rest of the dead and meant as a day to help those who have not attained the Beatific Vision in Heaven. Meaning, they ain't perfect and are stuck in Purgatory. On All Souls' Day, these souls may be helped along with prayer and the sacrifice of the Mass.
How do we help these fine dead folk along? Time to circle back, folks!
Ringing Bells - Remember the town criers we talk about earlier? Bingo. The ringing of the bells was believed to sooth and comfort the souls in their cleansing period in Purgatory.
Soul Cakes - Remember those tasty little trinkets that were passed out on All Hallows Eve? Each one eaten allows a soul to ascend to Heaven from Purgatory.
Lighting Candles - Remember the bon fires and candles? These are to help souls lost in the darkness.
Leaving Food At The Table - Again, as already mentioned in the Halloween section, food is left out for deceased family members. As they make the journey from Purgatory to Heaven, they may need something to eat.
Visiting Graveyards - Many people visit the graves of family and loved ones. They leave flowers and food and prayers and all manner of offerings. Some people spend the entire day and night at the graveyard. It is to honor those that have passed on
That is Hallowmas, in a nutshell. I could have written an academic dissertation that would have filled up about twenty volumes, but I really wanted people to read this, so I thoughtfully kept the word count down to the low thousands. Aren't I nice?
I hope that a good many people get to read this and I hope that maybe I've been able to change a few people's minds about Halloween. Yes, in the year 2013, it is a completely commercialized holiday that is specifically engineered to push product and boost candy sales. Before you ultra religious fanatics get on your high horses about that, let me remind you that Christmas and Easter are also now HIGHLY commercialized.
Look, the point is this: Halloween is, was and will always be a special time of year. How you celebrate it is up to you....or you can choose not to celebrate it. Hey, everybody has a right to Scrooge out on whatever holiday they want! However, when you start to form campaigns of lies and deceit against a holiday that you don't even fully understand, that's when I start to get pissed. Enough is enough. You don't like Halloween? Don't celebrate it, but keep your mouth shut because I don't want MY celebration ruined by a loud mouth zealot who has nothing better to do than spread self righteous blasphemy. And if you think that the denouncement of Halloween ISN'T blasphemy, then my friend you are living in a delusion.