Sunday, October 22, 2006

HOLIDAY: Halloween is October 31

Halloween History

Halloween blends the traditions of the Celts, Romans, Catholics and Protestants. On October 31, the Celts celbreated the onset of winter by hostinga New Year's festival in honor of Samhain, the Lord of the Dead. It was the holiest day of the year, linking the living with the dead. Even though the souls could cause danger they also supplied omens that could be read more clearly during the feast. The Samhain, assembled all the souls in order to sentence the sinniners to one year in the shape of an animal while the good souls could take the shape of a human. The Celts wanted to please Samhain on this night so he would allow the souls of their relatives to return home and get warm by the fire while keeping the evil spirits at bay who otherwise would destroy crops and kill animals. The villagers would dress up as animals and dance around the fires and then form a parade and lead the evil souls to the outskirts of town. On November 1, the Romans held a feast in honor of Pomona, the Goddess of the orchards and harvest. The apple was dedicated to her as a symbol of fertility and love. By the 1 century A.D., the Samhain and Pomona festivals had merged into one, celebrating the harvest and asking for protection from evil spirits. Once Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian, Christianity spread throughout the Empire during the 1-4th Centuries. The Church had to convert the people from pantheistic to monotheistic ideology. The early popes were pivotal in ensuring this by gradually incorporating elements of the pagan rituals into Christianity so the pagans would not feel alienated but embraced by the Church. In 610, Pope Boniface IV, created All Saints’ Day to commemorate all early Christian martyrs. In 740, Pope Gregory III moved All Saints’ Day to November 1st, to coincide with Samhain so the people could still celebrate the dead but with a Christian slant. In 834, Pope Gregory IV extended the holiday to include all Saints so every church under Roman rule would participate. It was placed in the church books in 993. In 1000, All Souls’ Day was approved for November 2, by Pope Sylvester II to honor the departed. By the 14th Century, it was customary to trick or treat on October 31, All Hallows Eve, marking the three-day feast, Hallowmas. Soul cakes replaced the practice of placing food outside of one’s house and sacrifices to appease the souls. People now wore costumes as tribute to the saints, not to scare the spirits. Bonfires were lit to ward off the devil rather than honor the sun. The Protestants, led by Martin Luther, ceased celebrating the Catholic Saint days on October 31, 1517. The practice of an autumn fest was resurrected in the guise of Guy Fawkes Day, held on November 5. On that day in 1605, the Catholics plotted to blow up the House of Lords, who were pro-Protestant. But, they were caught before it ensued and Guy Fawkes was caught as he was trying to dispose of his gunpowder stash and later he was executed. In 1606, the Parliament declared that day to celebrate the victory over the Catholics. Due to the proximity of Hallowmas, many of the traditions were borrowed and on the eve of Guy Fawkes, which became known as Mischief Night, people carried carved turnips lit with candles as they begged for coal to light bonfires to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. By the time many English and Irish moved to America, the traditions of Halloween and Mischief Night were so well ingrained in their culture that they brought it with them.

In Brittany, people placed pancakes by the door for the soul's of their family to eat when they rose up from the cold ground on Halloween

Hallowe'en Icons
The Jack O’Lantern finds its roots in Irish folklore. A drunk named Jack was approached by the Devil who wanted his soul. But Jack ran up a tree and when the Devil chased him up it, Jack carved a cross in the bark and the Devil was trapped in the tree. Jack made a deal with the Devil that if he let him down the tree then the Devil was to leave him alone forever. When Jack died, he was denied access to heaven due to his sinful ways so he was sent to Hell but he wasn’t admitted either because of the pact. So, the Devil gave Jack an ember placed inside a hollowed out turnip to light his way through perpetual darkness. The Irish began carving their own turnips and placing a candle in them and carrying them to ward off evil spirits. When Irish immigrants came to America, they discovered that pumpkins were a better size than a turnip for holding a candle.

Costumes were worn by the Druids to disguise themselves so the spirits would think that they were also a soul and leave them alone. The costumes mainly consisted of animal skins and masks to look like animals. They would wear them while dancing around the bonfire and in a parade to lead them out of town.

Bobbing for Apples is rooted in the Roman festival of Pomona. Apples were the sacred fruit of the Roman Goddess, Pomona. Today, we celebrate Pomona by bobbing for apples. If you manage to bit in an apple that is floating in a tub of water then you will have good luck during the coming year.

The Black Cat, Bat, and Owl are Witches’ friends. Witches are thought to gather twice a year when the seasons change, one Halloween and May Day. The word witch is derived from the Old English word “wicca”, meaning to turn or bend. A witch changes or bends events with magic. Black Cats are thought change into witches. Cats can sense both evil and good spirits. They also can embody malevolent spirits. So they are especially dangerous during Halloween when evil spirits are lurking. In the Middle Ages, it was thought that owls were bad spirits, which eat the soul’s of the dying and their cry warned of looming death. Bats were always present during the Witches’ bonfires.

Trick or Treating began as a Celtic tradition and became a Christian one. The Celts placed bowls of food in front of their doors to appease the spirits so they wouldn’t enter the homes and play tricks on them. In 9th Century Europe, early Christians paralleled this tradition by begging for “soul cakes,” square pieces of bread with currants, in return for praying for the donor’s deceased relatives. It was thought that after death, one remained in limbo for a while; these prayers would accelerate the soul’s passage to heaven. Eventually, this evolved into children going from house to house asking for treats.

Have a Halloween party. If your little ones are too young to carve, let them draw the face on the pumpkin. Tell scary ghost stories. Have a pumpkin relay by lining up 2 teams; the first person passes the pumpkin over their head to the next person who passes it on under their legs, and so on. When you get to the end of the line, the last person runs up to the front with the pumpkin and starts all over again until the person who was first in line returns to the front of the line. Whichever line manages this first wins. Then bob for apples so you and your friends will have good luck for the year to come. Don’t forget to put on your costume and go trick or treating!

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