The spooky origins of Halloween revealed

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Halloween. It's the annual night of frolic and fear, trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses" and viewing horror films.

The tradition rests upon Scottish and Irish folk customs that can be traced from pre-Christian times. It was originally a pagan festival dating back to the Druids in honor of Saman, Lord of the dead, whose festival fell on Nov. 1.

The ancient Celts nearly 2,000 years ago, celebrated the start of the new year and the end of the summer around the first of November. They believed that on this night the veil between the sprit world and that of the living was at its thinnest allowing for the dead to rise and wander the earth for this one night only.

To celebrate, people built bonfires, wore masks and costumes in order to prepare for the arrival of spirits. Fire rituals and divination were part of the celebration. Pagan priests even offered human and animal sacrifices. The living would get into disguise so that the dead would not recognize them.

The Celts believed that during the darkest hours of the night, the Lord of the dead would bring the lost souls together to be re-sentenced. The evil spirits would spend the next 12 months as animals and the good spirits would spend those months in the form of human beings.

In time, the tradition of Halloween grew to include fairies, witches, goblins, and spirits as well as the dead. The Christian Church, which set out to eradicate pagan rituals and beliefs, recognized that they could not destroy these beliefs completely so they "incorporated" them into the Christian religion.

In 834 A.D., Pope Gregory IV extended the feast for all the church and it became known as All Saint's Day, still remembering the dead.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. It is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each has a history, or at least a story behind it.

The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead roamed the earth along with fairies, witches, and demons.

Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. In England, cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went "a 'souling" for the sweet treats.

As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. The current practice of trick or treating evolved from these antics which were called mumming. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises.

Halloween also retains some features that stretch back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other vegetables.

This holiday considered a time of magic, also became a day of divination. A host of magical beliefs surround it. If a person holds a mirror on Halloween and walks backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover.

Prior to the 1900's, there is very little documentation about Halloween. Mass produced costumes did not appear until the early 1930's and trick or treating for candy was not common until the 1950s.

In 2005 the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American adults planned to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters and 93 percent of children surveyed planned to trick or treat. It is now the sixth most profitable holiday in the U.S. behind Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentines, Easter and Father's Day.

In the early 1990's, mass production of Halloween yard decorations appeared making it the most popular time (after Christmas) for decorating.

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