Halloween – 31st October 2018
Halloween! October 31st marks the day that we now know as Halloween. It’s a fun, spooky time where we can enjoy quite a few things steeped in tradition: without even realizing.
A Brief History
Our exploration of Halloween begins with the Celtic festival, Samhain. Samhain is pronounced “Sow-in” and originated in Ireland, before it was Ireland.
This was and is a celebrated yearly event. Originally, those who participated would enjoy bonfires and they’d dress up- to dissuade the dead from causing troubles. Because this time of year is known as a time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thin: costumes were one way to ward them off.
For those Celts, there were two very important and holy parts of every year. The first being Beltane, which occurs on May 1st. The second, however, was Samhain, usually celebrated on the 1st of November. These were considered the two most important- and frightening parts of the year.
Crossroads and Bridges
The reason for this being is that for them, these two times- and certain places, were considered “in between the worlds” of the living and the dead. They considered crossroads, thresholds, bridges, the shore between land and sea, and other crossing places to be holy. In the same thought, times of year where transitions occurred were the same.
Sometime around the 8th century, November 1st was set aside by Pope Gregory III as All Saints Day. This was intended to honor the dead who have passed over and gone to heaven. All Souls Day, on November 2nd, is for those who have passed but have not yet made it there. Many of the Halloween traditions and the traditions for All Saints Day have their roots in Samhain.
For those people, this was when time didn’t have any meaning. The lines between the present, the past, and the future became one. This was when the dead would come to visit among the living and demons, fairies, witches and other supernatural entities walked freely.
Trick or Treat!
During the early All Souls’ Day parades in England, families would bake soul cakes- to hand out to the poor. The recipients of the cakes would then pray for the dead of those families. In time, children started to go from door to door, and receive various treats. Ale, money, baked goods and other food items were common.
Getting into costume for the event came earlier on. In the days when this began, late autumn and winter were sparse times for many people. Throw in the fact that the days were much shorter and it became darker, sooner: and winter time was a very scary time for many. Because of the belief that the dead were roaming around, many people became afraid to leave their homes- so, in order to avoid detection: they wore masks and otherwise.
Finding Love Among The Dead?
One of the most common rituals was to help the young women find their matches. One ritual involved taking all of the single men and women within the village- and blindfolding them. They would then be taken into the garden area to dig for kale. Divination by way of the kale stalks would reveal information about who they were going to marry.
Cooks were very important to most rituals as food has always held an integral part in many traditions. In another matchmaking ceremony, the cook would prepare colcannon. This is a dish prepared with basically, mashed potatoes, kale, cabbage and other seasonings. The cook would then hide items in the mix- and depending on what you found, your fortune would be told. One example is, if you found the thimble, you were out of luck. You’d wind up an old maid. If you found the ring, however, you would marry shortly.
Another tradition involved naming hazelnuts and throwing them into a fire. How the hazelnut burned would then give the name and other information about a future spouse. Women who were eligible would also gather up bunches of apple peels- to be thrown over her shoulder. She would then look at the way they landed to decipher the initials of her soon to be husband.
The Dumb Supper
Another Irish and Scottish tradition associated with this holiday is something called the Dumb Supper. The night before Samhain, the family would serve up a feast- but no one would speak. The head of the table was set, but no one living was seated there. This was considered where you served the ancestor: but, you weren’t supposed to look at it directly. Doing so, was inviting bad luck upon your household. After the meal was concluded, you would take the plate and the cup and put it on your doorstep to offer it up to entities called the Pookas. They also left the last of the crops in the field for these entities.
So, you can see, there are many different traditions associated with and contributing to what we know as Halloween. Whatever you celebrate or whatever traditions you engage in: here’s to a wonderful, magical time!
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