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Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday.


Link:http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/halloween/hallowmas.html

Great read and information up for discussion.

:D
 

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Wow. A very informative piece, Nicole, though I knew most of it. Perhaps it will provide a clearer vision to those not in the know, that come by the board. I have always wanted to see a Horror Film that has it's trappings in Halloween that takes place in ancient times, or early American History. All we have really, is Michael Myers, the psychotic killer running about slicing up people in a film series that has the holiday name. An idea is forming...! :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Helspont said:
Wow. A very informative piece, Nicole, though I knew most of it. Perhaps it will provide a clearer vision to those not in the know, that come by the board. I have always wanted to see a Horror Film that has it's trappings in Halloween that takes place in ancient times, or early American History. All we have really, is Michael Myers, the psychotic killer running about slicing up people in a film series that has the holiday name. An idea is forming...! :D
Michael Myers was kind of based on the darkside of the Celtic belief system and what they did. I know the story some what. That reminds me I should place up some of those traditions online. ^^ Anyway Halloween history should be more exposed in film expecially if they do it right.
 

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Therein lies the whole arguement about Horror Films today--THEY NEVER DO THEM RIGHT!
 

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That's a nice "quick and dirty" version of the history of the holiday. I strongly recommend three books on the subject:

Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History By: Lesley Pratt-Bannatyne
Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween By: David J. Skal
Halloween Customs, Spells and Recipes By: Silver Ravenwolf

Each author offers alot of the same information, so it may seem redundant, but each author also brings something unique to the table in the form of their different points-of-view. The last book offers a little history, and was written by a practitioner of the wiccan religion.

One to avoid is The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween by Jean Markale. It was horribly translated from French to English, and uses lots of words that will make you read the dictionary more than the Halloween book. That, and it hardly talks about Halloween, focusing more on the day-to-day life of the "average" pagan.

I'm going to be writing a slightly less abridged history for the parent site here sometime soon, as well as authoring a few articles to dispel alot of the untruths concerning the holiday.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Zombie-F said:
That's a nice "quick and dirty" version of the history of the holiday. I strongly recommend three books on the subject:

Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History By: Lesley Pratt-Bannatyne
Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween By: David J. Skal
Halloween Customs, Spells and Recipes By: Silver Ravenwolf

Each author offers alot of the same information, so it may seem redundant, but each author also brings something unique to the table in the form of their different points-of-view. The last book offers a little history, and was written by a practitioner of the wiccan religion.

One to avoid is The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween by Jean Markale. It was horribly translated from French to English, and uses lots of words that will make you read the dictionary more than the Halloween book. That, and it hardly talks about Halloween, focusing more on the day-to-day life of the "average" pagan.

I'm going to be writing a slightly less abridged history for the parent site here sometime soon, as well as authoring a few articles to dispel alot of the untruths concerning the holiday.
I heard of those books. Most of my knowledge does come from reading so many books. I also advice looking in the New Age section... I was lucky to find Halloween related books in there. I will give everyone the information latter because I don't have it at the moment but your New Age section most be large because I learned that many places don't have a big section and it is hard to find good books. I like the more ancient history of Halloween such as Samhain and even the Greeks had alot of influence on Halloween as we know today. I just thought it had some good information to start off with. ^^
 

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I question the details of the Celtic (or Keltic) origins. It is common knowledge among anthropologists that there is very little information on the ancient Celts. They did not keep written records and the Roman Empire followed later by the Christian missionaries destroyed most of their structures and polluted their belief system.

Some of what we know of the Celts was culled from ancient Roman writers. But, most of what you read about ancient Celtic traditions has been fabricated by New Age Pagans that came about in the early 1900s.

The Halloween we know and love today, is a potpourri of customs from many countries and cultures and has no religious meaning what-so-ever.
 

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You are free to your opinion. :)

"The Halloween we know and love today" can be interpreted differently by who you talk to.

Samhain (which often gets called or referred to as Halloween) does have religious meaning to it's followers.
 

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yes, but the Halloween we know and love today, has no religious meaning/connections. Its wrong for new-age pagans to attempt to adopt Halloween and call it their holy day. Anybody who want to celebrate "samhain" can do just that. But don't confuse it with Halloween. Earth Day and Easter occur close to the same time each year but seem to have no problem keeping them separate.

New-age pagans have already muddied the waters to the point that some other religions teach their followers to shun Halloween. And that's just wrong. It hurts the kids and bums out us haunters.

Lets keep Halloween secular, so that everyone can enjoy it.
 

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yes, but the Halloween we know and love today, has no religious meaning/connections. Its wrong for new-age pagans to attempt to adopt Halloween and call it their holy day. Anybody who want to celebrate "samhain" can do just that. But don't confuse it with Halloween. Earth Day and Easter occur close to the same time each year but seem to have no problem keeping them separate.

New-age pagans have already muddied the waters to the point that some other religions teach their followers to shun Halloween. And that's just wrong. It hurts the kids and bums out us haunters.

Lets keep Halloween secular, so that everyone can enjoy it.
Let's not turn this into a religious debate. Religion is topic that can be volatile.
 

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Turning this away from any religious connotation, why would it be wrong for any group to adopt any particular day for whatever purpose they want? We have labor day on a particular day, and memorial day on a particular day, but they're arbitrary days that are designated for a particular meaning, whatever that might be. The hook here is rhe freedom we have to express our beliefs whatever they may be. Just because you feel a particular way doesn't mean we all have to follow it. I don't want to take this down a political avenue either, I just believe that everyone has the right to believe what they will, and to chose to express it as they will so long as they don't hurt others in the process.
 

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Just because you feel a particular way doesn't mean we all have to follow it.
Never said you had to... Halloween has is a fun secular holiday. The history of which comes from many cultures with varied customs from all over the world. Its basically a harvest festival.
 

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Years ago, at Knotts Berry Farm, they had a buggy on a roof, to represent a Halloween prank during the days of the old west. I've had plenty of Pagan friends, and I've enjoyed being with some of them having their celebrations. But in my case, it wasn't unlike a Jewish person, going to a Christmas concert. The thing is this, there are non pagans who enjoy Halloween as a secular celebration. The Church I belong to, has Trunk or Treat. Pagans should enjoy celebrating Halloween, just the same as non-Pagans, even if they are doing so for different reasons.
 
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