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The History of Halloween

Published by Merlin Leachman

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Halloween, October 31, is traditionally celebrated as a night of fun and frolic for children. But where did all our traditions originate? Let’s take a look at the history of Halloween. Where did it originate, how did the traditions all come to be, and finally why do people enjoy being scared?

Samhain was a Pagan festival celebrated by the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain. It was also known as All Hallows Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day, which is traditionally November 1st. As the holiday was brought to America by immigrants it eventually evolved into what we now term Halloween. Other names for October 31st are Calan Gaeaf in Welsh, Allantide in Cornish, and Hop-tu-naa in Manx. In parts of Ireland it is also known as Pooky Night.

Halloween is the one night of the year when the line between the real world and the spiritual world becomes very thin, this allows spirits to walk among us, both good and bad spirits can cross into our realm on this night. It is also thought that on this night all magical powers are heightened, the witches and anyone who practices in the occult becomes more powerful than at any other time of the year.

The 19th century brought about the recognition of Halloween as a holiday, it was brought about by the immigration of nearly 2 million Irish following the Great Potato Famine. It was not commercialized in America until the 20th century, it is thought that it began with the first Halloween postcards, which were popular between 1905 and 1915. Not long after companies began to manufacture figurines and decorations. But when were the first costumes used in America? Mass produced costumes did not appear until the 1930’s and trick or treating was not a fixture until the 1950’s.

Monsters, black cats, witches, bats, jack-o-lanterns and ghosts are but a few of the traditional symbols of his holiday. The most recognized of these would have to be the jack-o-lantern so let’s take a look at this symbol first. The carving of a lantern is a tradition brought by the Irish, but the tradition of carving a pumpkin is strictly North American. This was because the pumpkin was more available and much larger and easier to carve. Little do most people realize that the tradition of carving a pumpkin was associated with the harvest season it did not become associated with Halloween until 1866.

Bats are another traditional symbol of Halloween, how did these animals become involved with this holiday is an easy question to answer. Bats feed on mosquitoes and since in olden times Halloween was celebrated with huge bonfires which attracted mosquitoes and in turn bats they are a recognizable symbol today. The fact that they only fly at night and live in tombs and abandoned churches or other dark places only adds to their association with this dark holiday.

Witches and black cats go hand in hand. Witches powers’ are supposedly heightened on this night and since black cats have been associated with witches and as having the ability to sense good and bad spirits makes them the perfect symbol of Halloween. Ghosts and skeletons are related to Halloween due to their connection to the dead. The colors orange and black are used due to their relations with darkness and the dead. Orange is the color of the beeswax candles used in ceremonies and the black is representative of the color of the cloths that were draped over ceremonial caskets.

When we talk of Halloween we have to mention trick-or-treating. This tradition was originally intended to appease the evil spirits that crossed over on October 31st. The house wives would place a dinner of the finest meats on their doorsteps to appease the evil spirits. It evolved into the poor going from door to door asking for food to placate the evil spirits. Eventually children began going from door to door and they would receive either food or money and it would insure that no tricks would be played on the household they visited.

For the final question: Why do some people love being scared? It is what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome; which is pretty much the same as an adrenaline rush. When this happens the heartbeat increases to pump more blood to the muscles and brain, the lungs take in more oxygen, the pupils of the eyes get larger to see better and finally the digestive and urinary systems slow down so concentration can be placed on more important things.

This is a small glimpse into the creepy scary holiday that we all know as Halloween.



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