Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween

Sunday was the epitome of Autumn perfection. Basking in the joyous glow of warm sunshine, enjoying the serenity the Fall season offers, one could truly relax after the hurried pace of the summer garden. With the exquisite feel of Sunday, it is not odd that Fall is a favorite season, cherished all the more for its fleeting passage.

Each year at this time it is nice to review the origins of one of our most anticipated holidays, Halloween. As with many of our holidays, its origins are rooted deep within the pagan past of our ancestors and celebrations have been altered over time to adapt to our Christian beliefs. New Years Day was November first in ancient Ireland, Briton, and Northern France and ushered in the beginning of the season in which the earth appeared dead.

The day before the New Year, it was believed the Lord of the Dead allowed the souls of the departed to return to their earthly homes. The people were told to put out their hearth fires so as not to frighten the returning souls. They lit huge bonfires of sacred oak branches to drive away evil spirits who might be returning as well. They made offerings of animal sacrifices and often wore costumes so the visiting Lord of Death could not recognize them and come for them in the coming New Year. Fortunes were told and at the end of the night, the hearth fires were relit from the bonfire.

When Rome began occupation of the Celts in 43 AD they included the Festival including Samhain in their own Autumn festivals, one of which honored the dead as well. All Saints Day was established by the church on November 1st about 800 AD and includes many of the old pagan customs. Later the church began to honor the dead on November 2nd which became All Souls Day. On All Souls Day poor people went “a-souling” (or begging) for “soulcakes” in exchange for the promise they pray for the dead.

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead includes traditional rituals which welcome deceased relatives home for the night. A place is set at the table for them, their favorite foods are prepared, and complimentary stories about them are told, all in the hope they will come back and join the family for the evening.

Any way it is viewed historically, the custom of honoring the dead has existed for thousands of years, complete with the belief that souls return to wander the earth! Autumn leaves, the end of summer, Jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, costumes, black cats, and fortune-telling all evolved from these pagan customs. It is amazing that these Celtic rituals, thousands of years old, still continue to flourish today.

*Remember to set the clock back an hour on Saturday evening.