Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween - October 31

Halloween falls on the 31st October of every year and is the day before All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints' Day in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, the Christian Church held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.

Well, the date of Halloween, 31st October, marked the end of the Celtic year and was believed to be the day when the spirits of those who died in the previous year would come back and possess a body of the living to allow themselves to pass into the afterlife.

However, the people who were still living were not keen on being possessed and would dress up in scary costumes to try and frighten away spirits. And this is the how the modern Halloween holiday was born.

Why the Costumes?

The Druids believed that on that night the divide between the physical world and the spirit world was pierced; allowing witches, demons, hobgoblins and elves to be released from the world beyond into the world of the living to harass those who were alive. In response and for protection, the Druids would create costumes and dress up as witches, devils and various other ghoulish characters to supposedly blend in with the ghoulish entities from the world beyond. There was great concern to be as authentic as possible, so much so that they even went so far as imitating these supposed ghouls by taking part in demonic activities in order to be immune from attack. They believed that these efforts would ward off the evil spirits.

Why the Pumpkins and the Treats?

In the spirit of consistency and to further demonstrate the extent to which they were willing to go to placate the spirits, the ancient Druids were quite interested in creating an atmosphere that they thought would please these evil spirits. In addition to the costumes they also carved grotesque faces on gourds, which they illuminated with candles. In hopes of escaping harm, they would further try appease the spirits by providing a variety of treats. All of this and more the Druids carried out in hopes of making themselves immune from attack.

Carving a face in to a pumpkin and placing a candle inside is to represent the Irish folklore about a man called Jack. It is believed that Jack was a notorious trickster and once even managed to trap the Devil up a tree. When Jack died, he was refused from heaven because of his bad behaviour and in revenge for being trapped up a tree, the Devil refused Jack entry into hell. Instead, he gave him a single ember to guide him through the darkness. The folklore tells us that the ember was said to be placed inside a turnip to make it last longer. Over time the turnip has changed to a pumpkin.

Why do We Call it “Halloween”?

In hopes of overthrowing this Druid tradition of festivals that was so entrenched in the myth of ghouls and goblins, in AD 835 the Roman diocese, Pope Gregory IV, moved the celebration for all the martyrs (All Saints Day) from May 13th to November 1st. Thus, the evening before came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve, from which the name Halloween was later derived.

Eerily the ancient Druid tradition of costumes and treats remains today as Halloween in various parts of the world. Of course, today the celebration has lost the true meaning behind it and the original intent of the Druids has been phased out and understood to be based on myth. However, while Halloween is now undertaken with more joy and less fear of ghosts and goblins, it’s name has been somewhat redeemed by the church as Samhain is no longer known as such, but by the name of the rival celebration that was known as All Hallows’ Eve.

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