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The True Origins of Halloween - Harmful or Historic?

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Halloween is a fun yearly tradition of dressing up in fun or spooky costumes, kids having a fun time running house to house asking for candy, costume parties, and scary movies, all perfectly harmless fun! Except, nowadays some people try to deem it satanic and ungodly, which when you look back at its origins it’s simply untrue, so, let’s unpack this holidays origin, going over 2000 years into the past.

 

The true origins of Halloween go back to a festival called Samhain, over 2000 years ago, in the areas that are nowadays Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, where they would celebrate the passing on the New Year on November 1st. With the passing of the night, the harvest season would begin. On the last day before the new year, October 31st, it would be believed that the mortal and spirit realms would intercept, thus the celebration of Samhain, where a giant sacred bonfire would be lit, burning crops and animals in sacrifice to Celtic gods and deities, to bring good fortune to the new year. During the celebration, the people would be wearing costumes made of animal hides and heads, and try to tell the fortune they would have in the coming year. Banquets of food would also be left out for the spirits.

After a passage of time, the Roman Empire ended up conquering and taking over those same Celtic lands, and some of their own traditions got blended into what eventually became Halloween. The first thing that got incorporated was Feralia, a day sometime in late October where the dead and passed were honored. The second tradition added was the celebration of the Roman goddess Pomona, who was the goddess of fruit and trees, her symbolic element being an apple. [This could have perhaps influenced the game of bobbing for apples.]

Sometime in the 9th century, Christianity started to take influence over Celtic lands and traditions, creating the tradition of All Souls Day on November 2nd. It is heavily assumed that this was the Church’s attempt at replacing the original Celtic festival. This is because on All Saints Day people would celebrate by lighting bonfires, dressing up in costumes of angels, saints, and even demons. The celebration also had a second, perhaps better-known name, of All-Hallowmesse [or All-Hallows], which translates from Middle English into All Saints Day, and the night before the holiday becomes All-Hallows Eve, sound familiar?

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During All Souls Day, it would be common practice for poorer families and individuals to come to the wealthier families and be given soul-cakes, small round pastries in exchange for praying for the souls of the wealthy homeowners gone and beloved. The practice was originally known as souling, and it was eventually also taken up by young children going about asking for pastries, sweets, money, and ale [a type of bitter beer with a higher alcohol content.]

In Scotland and Ireland, there was a similar practice, where young people would practice what was called guising. Guising was perhaps more comparable to modern trick-or-treat, as young kids would dress up in costumes and asking for goods from households. These kids, unlike those participating in souling, would sing songs, poems, do dances, or tell jokes in exchange for nuts, fruits, and even coins, among other treats.

Another tradition of Irish descent was the carving of Jack-o-lanterns, and it comes from an old folk-lore story, Stingy Jack. Jack was said to have invited the devil himself in for a drink, and Jack being, well, Stingy Jack, tried to make the devil pay for the drinks. As punishment for the trick, once he dies he isn’t allowed to enter the afterlife at all, wandering as a ghost with nothing but a burning piece of coal to guide him. Jack would place this coal inside carved out gourds and turnips, and then he would be called Jack of the lantern, or Jack-o-lantern for short. People would start carving our gourds to ward off Jack and light the way for kind spirits. 

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Once the original traditions began to come to colonial New England, the traditions and beliefs behind it began to mix with Native American beliefs, and a very different holiday was in the making. The new celebrations had public parties for people to gather and celebrate the falls harvest, tell stories of the dead, play and dance and sing, and even begin telling each other’s fortune. There was also telling of scary ghost stories and making of mischief.

The large number of immigrants, especially Irish ones, during the 19th century, had an impact on popularizing Halloween as a tradition, bringing the traditions of souling and guising, and Jack-o-lanterns too, of course. However, it came to a point in the 1920s where kids looking for mischief would pull pranks on Halloween, these pranks developed into vandalism, physical assault to people, and other acts of violence. It’s believed that these gatherings of rowdy kids led to kids gathering to trick-or-treat for candy. But then any kids looking to get sweet treats on Halloween night were cut short with the outbreak of World War II, with sugar-rationing making candy hard to come by. But once the war was over and sugar was easier to come by, sugar and candy production boomed- many companies specifically marketing their products as Halloween candy. 

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After all the history and tradition that went into it, Samhain, All Hallows Eve, guising and souling, the holiday has been heavily westernized and turn into a staple of October and fall months, and is the second-largest marketed holiday in the US, while Americans spend on average almost 3 million dollars on candy for the holiday. 

So what do you think? Is Halloween an evil holiday meant to celebrate bad spirits, ghouls or demons, and evil witchcraft? Or is it an old tradition about those who have passed on, which has been drastically changed, twisted, and westernized? Has it become an objectively harmless holiday to dress in fun costumes and for kids to get treats, or is it worshipping the work of Satan? After hearing the [slightly condensed] story, feel free to decide for yourself. 



[Sources used are below]