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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Contest/Halloween Origins

Hello everyone.  This post, I will admit, is blatantly an attempt to get myself a few votes for a short story of mine on a halloween contest!  I would greatly appreciate your vote for "Medical Power of Attorney" here.

However, just pushing my work leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  I want to provide a little something for your time.  So, here is a brief history of Halloween!  I know that plenty of people who do not hail from the United States simply do not understand the purpose of this holiday.  Is it just an excuse to dress up, make a fool of yourself, and get candy?

Well, in a sense.  But it has a much more devious origin.  Now, I'm no expert, and I'm sure you could do some research and prove that what I'm saying here is wrong, but this is my understanding of its origins.  (Yes, I know, I usually actually research this stuff, but I'm a bit pressed for time here.)

Halloween is a sort of portmanteau of "All Hallow's Eve" (Hallow E'en = Holy Evening).  Why is it Holy?  Well, because...  maybe a little more background is needed.

Originally, the Gaelic peoples celebrated the end of harvest at Samhein, which is halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice (that is to say, the change between number of daylight and night time hours is greatest at this time of year).  Samhein, pronounced "s-ow-in", was supposed to be the day when the world of the spirits was closest to ours.  Often the dead would return home. Feasts would take place where they were beckoned, with places set at the table for them.  This is where mummers started (which continues into Yule/Christmas).  Mumming is, essentially, dressing up and acting out certain scenes in exchange for food.  That's right, Christmas caroling and trick-or-treating are two parts of the same practice.  They would often decorate gourds or dress up inanimate objects to scare away the evil spirits, which was sometimes symbolized by the mummers.

When the Christian church was trying to take hold in Western Europe, it decided that it needed to adopt certain major festivals as its own, or at least put religious festivals near the gaelic ones so that it would be easier for the people to convert.  To be a counterpart to Samhein, they created All Saint's Day on November 1st and All Soul's Day on November 2nd (both of which are still celebrated).  Now, back in that time, it was common practice for the day to begin when we would consider to be the night before (the eve).  This is why we HAVE Christmas Eve!  So, All Hallow's Eve is essentially the start of All Saint's Day.  The customs of the gaelic, however, were strong enough to leak into All Saint's Day's customs, so Halloween has held onto some of them.  The modern version of halloween is, however, fading.

Nowadays, most kids go to the mall or to "trunk-or-treat" in a sort of "gimme candy" mentality.  The spirit of going to neighbors to scare away the evil spirits in exchange for food (trick-or-treating) is mostly gone in some areas.  We *do* still carve pumpkins, which are tastier and larger than gourds (and more distinctly American).  And there are still parties, though bonfires aren't that common.  There has been a recent resurgence of Samhein in some areas.  I can only hope it spreads.

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