Should we encourage or even allow our children to participate in the celebration of Halloween? After all, what harm is there in them enjoying a ‘trick or treat’ amongst the local neighbours?
The Origin of Halloween.
The origin of Halloween dates back at least to the ancient Celts living in Ireland thousands of years ago. The article associated with Halloween in the Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
“In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain eve was observed on October 31, at the end of summer. This date was also the eve of the new year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times and was the occasion for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The date was connected with the return of herds from pasture, and laws and land tenures were renewed. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes.
“The pagan observances influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Eve, celebrated on the same date. Gradually, Halloween became a secular observance, and many customs and practices developed. In Scotland young people assembled for games to ascertain which of them would marry during the year and in what order the marriages would occur. Many Halloween customs have become games played by children”
The celebration today is a night of glowing jack-o-lanterns, tricks or treats, masks, and dressing-up in costumes. It is a night of story-telling—mainly telling chilling ghost stories by a fire. To understand the celebration a little better, some back-ground to these facets of the celebration would be appropriate.
The last day of October was the last day of the year for the Irish. The Druids, Celtic nature-worshippers, of Ireland believed that the spirits of the dead were revisiting their homes before the start of the New Year on 1st November. Some hundreds of years before the time of Christ, the Druids carried with them on them that evening a lantern to light their way on the road. On this particular night, they slung over their shoulder a lamp made from a hollowed out turnip, with a scary face carved into it to intimidate and frighten away spirits or demons that might otherwise lead one astray.
When the Irish went to America to flee the potato famine, they took this practice with them, but found that the native pumpkin was easier to carve and hollow out.
Trick or Treat.
The Celtic festival of Samhain festival was a “Festival of the Dead,” which honored Samhain (reputedly god of the dead), plus the wicked spirits. On Samhain Eve, Samhain would call the spirits of the wicked—who had died during the last year and who, being wicked, had been condemned to inhabit bodies of animals—to come out of their host animals and to re-visit their old homes. Families were to leave a good fire for them. Affectionate kinsfolk comforted and cheered them in kitchen and parlour. However, if acceptable food and shelter were not provided, these evil spirits would cast spells, cause havoc and terror, and haunt and torment those who lived. This is the earliest form of “Trick or Treat.”
Masks and Dressing up.
During the Samhain night of ritual, they sacrificed animals (and sometimes humans) and dressed up in the skins of the animals. They also wore hideous masks and costumes to disguise themselves from the evil spirits.