Why do we celebrate Halloween? Why is it in October? And for that matter, how the heck did it gets it’s silly name anyway? Well, to find the answer we need to go back in time, to the 10th Century in what we now know as Ireland.
The Celtics celebrated the end of the harvest season with a festival called Samhain. It occurred on October 31st which is right in between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. Giant bonfires were lit as part of the ritual. They believed the smoke from the fire provided protection so they would ritually walk through the smoke with their livestock. During this festival, they also believed that a portal would open between our world and the “Otherworld” of the dead. Both good and evil spirits would also find their way through. In order to hide from the evil spirits, people would wear frightening disguises. This way the ghouls would not be able to tell the humans from themselves. That is where Halloween costumes come from. More about that in a minute.
However, to encourage the good spirits to pay them a visit, the living would prepare great feasts and set an extra place at the table for their dearly departed in the hopes that they would arrive at their door. That is where the idea of giving treats came from.
The Celtics would also carve faces into harvest pumpkins and light them with embers from the bonfire. The lit pumpkin would light their way home while warding off evil spirits, then sit at the doorstep for keep the spooks away. Today, we know it as a Jack-o-lantern.
The name Halloween didn’t come to be until the Catholic church came along and tried to convert pagans to Christianity. The Christians needed to find a way to make this pagan holiday have religious significance so the transformed the day into Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, which is the day before All Saints Day. Hallow means Saint and “een” is derived from “e’en” which means eve or evening. The Celtic tradition held up as time when one. The Christians adopted the wearing of Halloween costumes as a custom for scaring away the evil souls that rise on the Day of the Dead (All Saints Day).
Today, even though strict religious denominations believe that celebrating Halloween is paganist, the majority of people see it as a secular holiday that is just for fun. Harvest fruits and vegetables have thankfully given way to a wide variety of sweet trick-or-treats and scary Halloween costumes have expanding to include a multitude of disguises that encompass 100s of characters.
Halloween is loved by people of all ages. Trick-or-treating for candy is left to the kids while teenagers love to watch scary movies and make mischief. The grown ups prefer costume parties with great spreads…sort of like the Celtics did.