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Halloween Origin
 You're here » Holidays Main Index » Halloween » Halloween Origin

The Origin of Halloween

       Since the 800's November 1st is a religious holiday known as All Saints' Day. The Mass that was said on this day was called Allhallowmas. The evening before became known as All Hallow e'en, or Halloween. Like some other American celebrations, its origins lie in both pre-Christian and Christian customs.

       "What we now know as 'Halloween' developed from ancient New Year festivals and festivals of the dead. The Celts lived more than two thousand years ago in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Northern France. Their New Year began on November 1st. A festival that began the previous evening honoured this Samhain, the Lord of Death. The celebration marked the beginning of the season of cold, darkness, and decay.

       In pre-Christian Britain, October 31st was considered as the eve of New Year, when the souls of the dead - especially those who had died in the past year - were believed to revisit their homes. On this day ghosts walked and mingled with the living, or so the Celts thought. The townspeople baked food all that day and when night fell they dressed up and tried to resemble the souls of the dead. Hoping that the ghosts would leave peacefully before midnight of the new year the people carried the food to the edge of town and left it for them.

       After it became a "Christian" festival, the evil supernatural symbolic associations continued - alongside such customs as the shaping of a demonic face out of a hollow pumpkin, in which a candle is placed. In the Halloween which people celebrate today, many of the practices have a direct association with witchcraft.

       Much later, when Christianity spread throughout Ireland and October 31 was no longer the last day of the year, Halloween became a celebration mostly for children. "Ghosts" went from door to door asking for treats, or else a trick would be played on the owners of the house. When millions of Irish people immigrated to the United States in the 1840s the tradition came with them.

Symbols of Halloween

       Halloween originated as a celebration connected with evil spirits. Witches flying on broomsticks with black cats, ghosts, goblins and skeletons have all evolved as symbols of Halloween. They are popular trick-or-treat costumes and decorations for greeting cards and windows. Black is one of the traditional Halloween colors, probably because Halloween festivals and traditions took place at night. In the weeks before October 31, Americans decorate windows of houses and schools with silhouettes of witches and black cats.

       Pumpkins are also a symbol of Halloween. The pumpkin is an orange-colored squash, and orange has become the other traditional Halloween color. Carving pumpkins into jack- o'lanterns is a Halloween custom also dating back to Ireland. A legend grew up about a man named Jack who was so stingy that he was not allowed into heaven when he died, because he was a miser. He couldn't enter hell either because he had played jokes on the devil. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgement Day. The Irish people carved scary faces out of turnips, beets or potatoes representing "Jack of the Lantern," or Jack-o'lantern. When the Irish brought their customs to the United States, they carved faces on pumpkins because in the autumn they were more plentiful than turnips.

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