Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween, Festival of Samhain, and ancestors

As I research my family lineage, for no other purpose than for my own knowledge, I decided that it would be interesting to research the origin of Halloween.

Where did it come from? How did it get its name? Why do we celebrate it?

In the way things do, I learned that Halloween or what was originally known as Festival of Samhain comes from Ireland, much like part of my family history. Festival of Samhain, pronounced "sow-an", meaning "summer's end".

The Celtic Festival of Samhain was a celebration of the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half. [Ooo! I get chills just thinking about the "darker half".]

The ancient Celtics believed that the veil between this world and the "otherworld" became thin on this night of the Celtic New Year, and thus perfect for allowing the spirits to pass through. The question is: Were they good spirits or bad?

Answer: BOTH

Yes, it was and perhaps still is believed that both the harmless and harmful spirits could pass through on this night. This idea is where the inspiration of wearing costumes originated.

On this evening family's honored their dead and invited them home, while warding off harmful spirits. Ancestors wore costumes to aid in the warding off of those bad, unwanted ghosts. The idea was that if they dressed as an evil spirit they would avoid harm.

In the traditional Celtic festival, hollowed out turnips were carved with faces and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. Today we carve pumpkins.

Traditional costumes consisted of ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, pretty much anything that was a monster. Remember, the idea was to play evid to ward off evil. Today, the costumes are pretty much anything, from a cartoon character, to a popular rock start, to the soft and squishy stuffed animal that you curl up with in bed at night.

Trick-or-treating, where did that come from? Actually, it came from those same Irish and British ancestors back in the middle ages. Trick-or-treating was originally known as "souling". Souling is where a poor person of the time would go begging from door-to-door on Hallowmas (November 1st), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2nd).

Hope you enjoyed this brief history of an Irish tradition and one of my favorite holidays.

Happy Halloween! Now go out and have fun celebrating the dead and undead!


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