On Halloweeen

Many historians accept that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which marked the beginning of winter and their new year.

The Celts were an agrarian people, so preparation for the cold, dark season began weeks in advance. Homes and barns were cleaned and spoiled or unnecessary items disposed of to make room for the incoming harvest. The crops were brought in and stored. As winter drew closer, livestock was moved to more sheltered pastures or into newly-cleaned barns. If a person had more stock than feed for them, some were slaughtered for food. The theme was much like our new year: out with the old and in with the new, planning ahead and starting anew. These preparations culminated in the Samhain festival.

One aspect of Samhain was the Celtic belief that the souls of those who died during the year traveled to the “otherworld” on this day. That being the case, this was the time of year a person would most likely encounter the spirits/ghosts of the dead. So a big part of the Samhain celebration was devoted to the departed.

Bonfires and torches were lit in their honor to help them find their way. People left out offerings of food and beverages for the same reason. Stories were told and songs sung in remembrance of the deceased, especially one’s ancestors. People would try to call loved ones to them for one last meeting before the departed were lost forever to the otherworld.

But, just as all living persons are not nice, neither were all spirit beings. The fires also helped keep away the evil ones. For added protection, people carved scary faces in turnips and other vegetables to frighten away unwanted spirits.

Samhain began its transformation into the modern Halloween in the year 601, when Pope Gregory I instructed missionaries that instead of trying to abolish local beliefs and customs they should dedicate them to Christ, and convert pagan holidays into Christian feasts, to ease the transition to Christianity.

Since paying respect to the dead was a main feature of Samhain, the feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1. This feast honored every Christian saint. The church later instituted All Souls Day on November 2 to honor all dead, not just Christian saints. Celtic peoples could now continue their commemoration of deceased ancestors and still be part of the new church.

That Church did not, however, change its creed. It still maintained theological superiority, so the leaders of the Celtic religious practices (Druids) were branded as devil worshipers, and the Celtic otherworld became hell. If any spirits were about, they must be demons.

Still the old beliefs and customs lived on; they just assumed a new guise. Trick-or-treating is a carryover from the belief that the dead are out and in need of food and drink. Costumes became popular later when people began dressing as these ghosts and engaging in tomfoolery, sometimes asking for a reward. Jack o’lanterns come from the vegetables carved to scare away unfriendly specters.

I love the idea of a day set aside to remember those we’ve lost, to tell our children about those who came before, to consider where we came from and thus who we are.

And I understand that we can all, especially children, overcome fears by facing them. Just as getting comfortable with monsters on Sesame Street can ease fears of monsters under the bed, if kids see a friend dressed as a witch or a big scary dog, maybe they won’t be quite so averse to dogs or fearful of witches in the broom closet.

But I don’t like the gory turn Halloween has taken. When I was a kid, you’d see costumes of ghosts and witches, but not things like bloody, gutty, stabbed murder victims. Why does society feel the need to get more disgusting and gross and violent? Lots of people aim for the highest shock value possible…and we get more comfortable with it.

My belief is that we shouldn’t become at ease with violence any more than we should get comfortable with a racist trying to get more shocking in his portrayals. So maybe I’ll pass out candy (or eat it!). Maybe I’ll watch a scary (not gory) movie or read a ghost story. Maybe I’ll even dress up. But not as anything that promotes violence.

What do you think about Halloween?

Advertisements

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Connie in Colorado on October 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    The Hispanic “Day of the Dead” cultural celebrations at this time of year align with the Pope Gregory I directive and is still prevalent today in our communities with large Hispanic populations. I’m with you, Teresa, as far as the gory stuff of Halloween that has taken over the costuming and movie industry – it’s not only scary but vile and creates young people who want only more and more gore. Thank for the post.

    Reply

  2. Yes, I appreciate the focus of Day of the Dead on actually remembering the deceased. I don’t like the whole skull thing they do, though; that’s not how I want to think of my loved ones who have passed. But I understand where it comes from, and it’s not meant to be sensational.
    I’m not sure who decided that bloody entertainment equals scary, but they obviously had no imagination. In my opinion, watching (and enjoying!) pain/torture is just depraved, not frightening.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: