Monday, October 27, 2008

Samhain AKA Halloween

Samhain, pronounced [SAW-hin] is, of course, the original Halloween. Actually, the word itself is Celtic and means November. To the ancient Celts the day signified the beginning of the New Year. The night before the New Year was considered to be an opportune time to communicate with the gods because the veil between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest. The thin veil, however, worked both ways. Not only did it allow the Celts to speak more easily with their gods, it also allowed beings from the otherworld to cross back over into this world. It was believed that the spirits of the people who had died that year would revisit this world on Samhain eve. To discourage the spirits from coming into the village proper, the Celts would build large bon fires and take offerings to the outskirts of town. They would place the food there in hopes of luring the spirits away.

The Romans considered Samhain sacred as well, however, they called it Pomona Day. To them it was a day of celebration for the end of the harvest. They gave thanks to their gods for their bounty and paid tribute so that the gifts of the harvest would be there again the following year. It was a holiday of tremendous merry making and joy.

Around 500 BC or so, the Romans made their way into the Celtic lands. War ensued and cultures clashed. In the end, the Romans and the Celts managed to combine the holiday traditions and melded beliefs from both cultures. Halloween, the term we know for the holiday, wasn’t actually given until many centuries later when Christianity was introduced to the Celtic lands.

When the Christian faith began to spread, the church found huge amounts of resistance to their pleas to give up the pagan holidays and traditions. They decided it would be more effectual to try and change these holidays into Christian celebrations. With that, they created All Saints Day; on the first of November the Catholic Church honors all of the saints who do not have their own holiday. The night before All Saint’s Day became All Hallows Eve to signify the holy evening. Over the years the term, through mutations of speech, became Halloween. Now, while the church has overtaken many, many pagan holidays, including Easter and Christmas (those are blog entries for another day), in this manner; Halloween just couldn’t be subdued. People enjoyed the celebration too much and the night has now become known to us as a day of spooky mischief making and treats. Yummy.

Somewhere along the line the idea of dressing in frightening costumes also came along. I believe the intent here was to scare off potential spirits that may have meant you harm. I’m not positive on this, but I think it may have come from the Spanish/Mexican influence stemming from their Day of the Dead (November 2nd). So, what are you going to be this year? I plan to hand out goodies to the kids and then sit around with the family telling ghost stories and watching scary movies. Apple bobbing and popcorn balls will most certainly make their appearance as well. America really is a melting pot of culture and our holiday celebrations attest to that fact. Happy Halloween!


Busstogate said...

Great Job on this piece Terri. I learned a couple of new tidbits about the procession of the holiday(s) from culture to culture.

maeve63 said...

Awesome and thanks. It's nice to know that you enjoyed the piece, and got some new info out of it, too! Cool.