Daily Blog #343: History of Halloween (Samhain)

Greetings and Salutations, Blog Readers!

I don’t know when this blog will go up, likely the week of Halloween, but, I wanted to discuss the history of Halloween or, Samhain.

Most of us know SOME basics about the holiday, like it originally being a pagan holiday celebrated when the space between the physical and spiritual world were thinnest, allowing for the spirits to walk among the dead, and treats were left out for them.

You likely also know that this day gets its name from “hallowed evening,” and was known as “All Hallows’ Eve”, on the 31sr, and “All Saints Day” the following day on the first. You may not know that the latter, All Saint Day, wasn’t always celebrated so close to Halloween, until Pope Boniface IV made the choice to change the observance to its current date. Nothing new there, mind you, the church has been appropriating and changing things from the pagans for a long time, and this is hardly the first or last thing they have done it with.

So where did the tradition come from? Well, the earliest known start of Halloween is the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain. This marked a major theme in the year when the seasons changed, and, as we all probably recall from every lore every told, when the planes between the physical world and spiritual world were at their thinnest, which allowed the living to come in contact with and communicate with the dead. This believe was shared by other religious and holidays, including Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday that also usually occurs in October, and involves prayers to the dead.

Obviously, with the space between the living and the dead so thin, this is where the idea of “haunted Halloween” comes in. The early holiday tradition of Samhain meant a lot of ceremonies to connect to the spirits, and, interestingly, it was not some singular deity silliness- It was a Polytheistic society, meaning multiple deities were prayed to, and therefore multiple styles of connecting with the dead were used.

Of course, there were simple things that are still done today that most early celebraters of Samhain used, like dressing up as a disguise against ghosts, eating magnificent feasts, and making lanterns out of hollowed out gourds, which of course gives us Jack-o’-Lanterns.

Of course, with time, the Christians did all they could to remove the more pagan elements of the holiday, keeping in that which could be used in a light, fun way, and changing plenty of other things to better suit their own needs.

For example, while researching for this blog post (yes, believe it or not, all of this wasn’t inherently in my head, just a lot of it) I learned that the bobbing for apples became a way to determine who a maiden would marry. Most of the traditions became more about seeing the future, and less about honoring the past and the dead.

Trick or Treating was borrowed from the third holiday in the mix, all souls day, where people would once ask for soul cakes, the tradition morphed into a “give us treats in hopes of not being tricked/pranked” that it was when I was child. Now, it seems the holiday is more geared towards “trunk or treat” but, that may have more to do with our current climate than history. Goodness knows I hope this reverts back to the good ole days.

Speaking of good ole days, for a long time we didn’t do Halloween in this country, once again, thanks to religion. The Puritans didn’t like it, so, until we were blessed with Irish and Scottish immigrants, who, obviously, took it far more seriously as they were closely linked to the source of the holiday, and finally, we started getting more Halloween in the states.

I personally love Halloween, it’s one of my favorite holidays for so many reasons, including the fun and aesthetics, and also how much more magical everything is. The space between the living and the dead are still thin, even as the holiday has changed, and that energy permeates the season, no matter what the more religious and anti-Halloween may say, they can’t stop it.

Halloween was always a big mark of independence, in my world. When you were finally trusted to go out, on your own, with friends, to get free candy from strangers. You had to be mature enough to prove you could be trusted out among the other trick or treaters, and that you were smart enough to not trust anyone who may be trying to hurt you, and of course, always check your candy before eating it.

Maybe not for everyone, but to me, and many I know, Halloween was a day to not only be looked forward to and excited about, but to see if this was the year you could be trusted alone, and, if you could, how well you would do without parents guiding you to the best houses, and keeping you safe from creepy dudes in all sorts of assorted masks.

Halloween has a long history, but it all kind of boils down to independence, to me, more so with how much the Christian religions have stolen from the holiday and made into something else, which wouldn’t bother me if they were honest about it. But they aren’t, so I guess that is their own “costume” or “trick”.

Samhain is a fun holiday, and as a writer who has several characters with an interesting relationship with death, it is often one of the more inspiring holidays for me.

But there is no right or wrong way to celebrate, so please do whatever feels right for you, be it dressing up, carving pumpkins, partying, telling spooky stories, or watching fun Halloween movies. Should you need movies to watch I have written some blogs on the matter, and I highly suggest Trick R Treat, even if you only have time for one movie this season- It’s the one to watch.

Unless you have kids, then I guess Hocus Pocus.

Have a great Samhain, and a Happy Halloween.

Thanks for reading,

Abbi

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