Friday, October 31, 2014

The origins of our Halloween traditions

Halloween is here again. Although I’m not a big fan of Halloween, I’ve been interested in the origin of this time year when kids and adults alike dress up. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is the Christianized feast of the Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain. Samhain is the celebration of the ending of summer and the beginning of winter. The festival was usually celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. According to Irish mythology, Samhain is the time when the doorways between this world and the Otherworld opens allowing spirits and the dead to return. Beltane is a similar festival in the spring which celebrates the living while Samhain celebrates the dead. During Samhain, the Celts would wear costumes, going mumming, and guide the spirits back to the Otherworld.

When the Celts wore their costumes, the theme was humor and ridicule to confront the power of death and the coming of winter. Scholars have postulated that the Celts wore costumes in order to confuse the spirits and possibly avoid being possessed. The masks worn possibly were to represent and honor their dead ancestors. 

Mumming is the ancient form of modern day trick or treating. Mumming involves a group of costumed individuals going house-to-house performing a folk play in order to receive some form of reward usually food. With the introduction of Christianity to the British Isle, mumming became souling. Souling is a form of trick or treating where the small cake is handed out to the children who come the door on Halloween. The children would either sing or say prayers for the dead and each cake eaten would represent a soul being released from Purgatory.

The Celts used carved turnips as lanterns to the spirits back to the Otherworld and the ward off evil spirits. The term Jack-o-lantern comes from the popular Irish Christian folklore about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil so much that he wasn’t allowed in Hell and his sinful life prevented him from going to Heaven. The Devil gives an ember from the fires of Hell and Jack places it in a turnip lantern to light his way. Stingy Jack was doomed to roam the world looking to rest his soul.
“So the moral of the story
Is that it’s time to mend your ways.
Be generous and giving
For the remainder of your days,
For if the Devil doesn’t want you,
And Heaven turns you away,
You’re doomed to wander in darkness,
With only a turnip to light your way.”

Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!!!!