Today is Halloween, a time of dressing up in costumes, carving pumpkins, and eating tons of candy. I am always so excited for this time of the year, everything and everyone is so festive. However, until recently I did not realize that Halloween is actually a very spiritual holiday.
Halloween started out, about 2000 years ago, as a festival celebrated by the Celts to mark the end of the year. October signaled the end of the harvest season, and the start of a long, hard winter, that would kill many animals and even some people. Therefore, during this time of the year, Pagan Celts celebrated death, and believed that the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped, allowing spirits to roam around among the living, playing pranks, scaring people, and ruining crops.
Some Celts dressed up in costumes or left food out to ward away the spirits. It was also believed that fairies roamed the land during Halloween, dressed up as beggars. If you gave food to the fairies, you would be rewarded, but if you didn't, then there would be horrible consequences. This sounds oddly familiar to an activity that many kids participate in during modern Halloween...
The Roman empire took over the Celtic land in the first century AD, and over the next several years, Christianity would spread to all of these areas. The Church did not like the Pagan traditions that were being celebrated on Halloween. Pope Boniface IV had designated May 13 as All Saints Day, but in 835 A.D., Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to November 1 to take away attention from the Pagan traditions. All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows, or All Hallowmas (Hallowmas is Old English for All Saints Day), so the day before was called All Hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween.
Jack-o-lanterns, a Halloween staple, got their name from an old Irish myth. It explains that there was an old man, named 'Stingy Jack,' who was a swindler and a drunk. Jack asked the devil to have a drink with him. He persuaded the devil to turn into a coin so that he could pay for his drink. When the devil transformed, Jack took the coin and put it into his pocket, next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing back. Jack agreed to free the devil as long as he wouldn't bother Jack for the year. The devil agreed, but next year Jack tricked him again. This time, Jack got the devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the devil was up in the tree, Jack quickly carved a cross into the tree, preventing the devil from climbing down. Therefore, the devil agreed to never seek Jack's soul again. When Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven because of his drunkenness and swindling, but he was also not allowed into hell because the devil had kept his word. The devil felt bad for Jack so he gave him an ember that was housed inside a carved out turnip to carry around on his everlasting journey, roaming the earth.
During the mid-1800s, immigration to America had increased, and many of the immigrants were Catholic and Irish, bringing Halloween traditions with them. Catholics and Episcopalians sought to preserve Halloween, so they tried to introduce it to the general population. This obviously worked, for Halloween is currently the second largest commercial holiday in the United States. However, today Halloween is seen more as a family and traditional holiday, rather than a spiritual or religious holiday.
It is amazing how much history there is behind Halloween. Now, if anyone asks, you will know the true meaning behind all the spooky traditions.