Belfast – As millions of children and adults participate in the fun of Halloween on the night of October 31st, few will be aware of its ancient celtic roots . In Celtic Ireland as in Britain, about 2,000 years ago, Samhain (pron . So-win) represented the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter). On this night,the veil between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through.
People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as malevolent spirits . Bonfires and food played a large part in the festivities. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, food for the ancestors who were in no position it eat it, was ritually shared with the poorer.
Two hills in the Boyne Valley were associated with Samhain in Celtic Ireland, Tlachtga and Tara. Tlachtga was the location of the Great Fire Fest which begun on the eve of Samhain .
The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain. The Mound of the Hostages is 4,500 to 5000 years old, would confirm the theory that Samhain was celebrated long before the first Celts arrived in Ireland. The celebrations at Tlachtga may have had their origins in a fertility rite on the hill but it gathered to itself a corpus of other beliefs which crystallised at the great Fire Festival.Today, new pagans groups continue to celebrate Samhain according to the celtic tradition, attracting visitors from all over the world to the Boyne Valley.
According to the Celts as the sun has descended into the realm of the underworld, the forces of the underworld were in the ascendency. The Lord of the underworld, unfettered from the control of the sun, walked the earth . Ghosts, fairies and a host of other morbid creatures accompanied him. Even though the ancestral ghosts were benevolent they needed some sort of appeasement in the form of ritual offering. Some traces of this tradition may have survived in the modern Halloween custom of “trick or treat”. . The ‘treat’ may represent the ritual offering while the ‘trick’, nowadays a harmless prank, may have in antiquity, represented the malevolent consequences of inadequately appeasing the ancestral ghost on this night.
(From The’ Celtic Fire Festival by John Gilroy)
Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead tradition into the gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory III (731–741) expanded the festivity to include all saints and all martyrs, with the observance on November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D. the church would make November 2 All Souls Day, a day to honour the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead . All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmess meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Halloween goes to America.
The Irish emigrated to America during the 19th century especially around the time of famine in Ireland in the 1840’s. They carried their Halloween traditions there
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. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults ,became the most common way to celebrate the day. Because of these circumstances, 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 community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. . A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas. So it is across U k and Ireland as well.
Jack O’ Lantern
The carving pumpkings tradition derives from an old Irish folktale about a man called Stingy Jack.
The story tells that Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him, neglected to pay and convinced the devil to turn into a coin so that he could pay for the drinks. The devil did as he asked but Jack, being stingy that way, decided to keep the coin for himself.
He put it in his pocket next to the cross he had in there, which prevented the devil from going back to his original form. Jack eventually did free the devil with the stipulation that the devil could not bother Jack for one year, and if Jack died, the devil could not take his soul. The story goes on with Jack tricking the devil to keep him from bothering him.
As Jack eventually died, God would not let him into heaven. The devil was not happy about the tricks Jack had played on him, and he did not allow Jack into hell. So Jack had to go into the night with only a coal to light his way. Jack, being the resourceful man he was, put the coal into a carved-out turnip, and he is still wandering the earth.
His ghostly figure was called jack-o’-lantern. The custom of a turnip being used was eventually changed to a pumpkin. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, . So the tradition to carve pumpkins to keeps the spirits away, became the symbol of Halloween as we know today.