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Halloween History

To "hallow" is to honor as holy, and is the root of the modern word "Halloween".

Although Halloween is not an official holiday, Halloween has become one of the most important and widely celebrated festivals on the contemporary American calendar.

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays with origins going back thousands of years. The holiday we know as Halloween has had many influences from many cultures over the centuries. From the Roman's Pomona Day, to the Celtic festival of Samhain, to the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days.

Between 1000 and 100 B.C., the Celtic people celebrated the new year with a Druid festival. It was at this time that Baal, the Celtic god of Spring and Summer, ended his reign. It was also when the Lord of the Dead, Samhain (pronounced "Sa-wan"), began his reign.

The festival began on the eve of November 1, when the souls of the departed supposedly revisited their old homes to comfort themselves with food or drink provided by their affectionate kinfolk. All Hallow's Eve, at the beginning of winter and the dying time of the old year, was a night when the dead stalked the countryside.

The Celts believed, that during the winter, the sun god was taken prisoner by Samhain, the Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness.

On the eve before their new year (October 31), it was believed that Samhain called together all the dead people. The dead would take different forms, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals. The most evil taking the form of cats.

Along with making sacrifices and large fires, the Celts wore costumes made of dead animal skins so the ghosts would not think they were mortal.

The November 1st festival was named after Samhain and honored both the sun god and Samhain. The festival would last for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals. This festival would become the first Halloween.

During the first century the Romans invaded Britain. They brought with them many of their festivals and customs. One of these was the festival know as Pomona Day, named for their goddess of fruits and gardens. It was also celebrated around the 1st of November. After hundreds of years of Roman rule the customs of the Celtic's Samhain festival and the Roman Pomona Day mixed becoming 1 major fall holiday.

The next influence came with the spread of the new Christian religion throughout Europe and Britain. The Catholic Church grew in power until, under Pope Gregory, it had converted most of Europe and the British Islands to Christianity. Pope Gregory's successor, Pope Boniface 4th, desperately wanted to eliminate pagan ceremonies. Pope Boniface felt that as long as the old festivals were still celebrated, the church's control wasn't complete. He decided to replace the old festival with a new festival and the church created All Saints' Day, a holy day to honor all the saints. This day was also called Hallowmas or All Hallows. Years later the Church would make November 2nd a holy day. It was called All Souls Day and was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.

Over the years the customs from all these holidays mixed. October 31st became known as All Hallow Even, eventually All Hallow's Eve, Hallowe'en, and then - Halloween.

In the late 1800's, nearly 7.4 million immigrants came to America, bringing their European customs with them. Seven hundred thousand Irish Catholics came over during the seven-year potato famine alone. These immigrants may have brought their customs with them, but once they saw how plentiful pumpkins were in the New World, it didn't take them long to start hollowing out jack O'lanterns instead of turnips.

In 1921, Anoka, Minnesota celebrated the first official city wide observation of Halloween with a pumpkin bowl, a costumed square dance and two parades. After that, it didn't take Halloween long to go nationwide. New York started celebrating in 1923 and LA in 1925. By then, not only had Jack O'Lanterns replaced the hollowed out turnips, but the disguised fairies begging door to door had become trick or treat. Bonfires remained popular, but not for relighting fires and telling the future.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, the first and second of November are the Days of the Dead -El Dias de los Muertos. In some regions, the evening of 31 October is the beginning of the Day of the Dead Children, which is followed on 1 November by the Day of the Dead Adults. Skeleton figures-candy (sugar skulls), toys, statues and decorations-are seen everywhere. It is a time for great festivity, with traditional plays and food. It is a time to play with death and decorating family graves, which is preceded by religious services and followed by picnics. The human skeleton or skull is the primary symbol of the day. Unlike the American Halloween, in Mexico people build home altars, adorned with religious icons and special breads and other food for the dead. The Day of the Dead incorporates recognition of death as a concept with rituals that remember the deaths of individuals.

Where in the World did that come from?

Trick for Treat:
During Samhain, the Druids believed that the dead would play tricks on mankind and cause panic and destruction. They had to be appeased, so country folk would give them food as they visited their homes.

Irish children used to carve out potatoes or turnips and light them for their Halloween gatherings. According to an 18th century Irish legend, jack-o'-lanterns were named for a man named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a shifty Irish villain. He could not enter hell either, because he had played jokes on the devil. Hence, Jack is a damned soul doomed to wander in darkness with his turnip lantern until Judgment Day. This legend is recent and does NOT go back to ancient times. If it was ancient, we would find it in the Christian art of Western Europe, or the pagan carvings, or somewhere in graphic representations. It is notable by its absence. After this legend reached America, pumpkins began to be used, rather than turnips, to represent Jack's lantern.

Bobbing for Apples:
When the Celts were absorbed by the Roman Empire, many rituals of Roman origin began. Among them was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, often portrayed sitting on a basket of fruits and flowers. Apples were the sacred fruit of the goddess, and many games of divination involving them entered the Samhain customs.

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