Halloween has ancient traditions

The more things change the more they stay the same

As the children prepare for trick or treat dressed in their Halloween costumes they are participating in a centuries old custom; one that dates back thousands of years to ancient Celtic Ireland.

At that time November 1 was the beginning of the new year. It marked the end of summer and the growing season and the beginning of the long, dead, winter. On the night of Oct. 31, it was thought that the line between the living and the dead was very thin and the spirits would come down to roam the earth. To ward off evil spirits and not to be confused for a wandering spirit the people wore costumes and gathered at a huge bonfire attended to by the Druid priests. After the celebration the people went home and took a piece of the sacred bonfire with them to relight their hearth fires hoping it would protect them from misfortunes during the coming winter.

How Halloween got its name

When Christianity came to Ireland in the 800’s Pope Boniface IV replaced the pagan celebration to honor the dead with the Christian custom of making November 1 a day to honor the martyrs and saints known as All Saints Day. The day became known as All-hallowmas (from the Middle English Alholowmesse which means All Saints Day). The day before (Oct. 31) therefore was known as All-hallows Eve which then evolved into Halloween.

Why do we Trick-or-Treat?

It is thought the tradition of trick-or-treating comes from the tradition of parades in England to celebrate All Souls (or Saints) Day. During the festivities the poor people would go to houses where they were given “soul cakes” in return for their prayers for the families’ deceased. This tradition was known as “going a-souling”. Later the children took up this tradition where they were given ale, food, and money as they visited the houses.

Ancient traditions still observed

It is funny that no matter how much time goes by and the world changes we still hold on to ancient customs and practices. Going back even farther in time the Romans also celebrated the dead and the harvest at this time. Today we observe the end of October with visits to haunted houses, scary and dead-themed movies, visits to farms for apple picking and corn mazes, bonfires, community parties, and children going from house to house  dressed in costumes begging for treats.

We are still observing the acknowledgement of life and death, the fears accompanied with it, and turning to a greater source for guidance and protection. Children still wander the night in costume looking for treats, churches still pray for the dead on All Saints Day, and people still like to gather around a bonfire; however, today the only spirits we are likely to encounter are the ones that come from a bottle—or not. What was that bump I just heard in the night? After all, it is Halloween.



3 Responses to Halloween has ancient traditions