Look who’s risen from the grad-school grave!
Let me tell y’all a not-so-secret: I love Halloween. From the costumes to the fall weather to the general spooky atmosphere, I am all about this time of year. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am the person that cranks the AC all summer so I can wear sweaters indoors.
With that said, let me tell you a tale of the origins of Hallowe’en (insert creepy music here).
Hallowe’en had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. At the time, the Celtic people divided the year by four major holidays, the one in question marking the beginning of winter. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to our November 1st, and this day represented both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle. Luckily for us, they held a festival called Samhain, the biggest holiday of the year. Similar to the basic ideas of Día de Los Muertos, the Celts believed that at the time of the festival ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living more-so than any other day of the year. They sacrificed animals, fruits, and vegetables, and lit bonfires to honor the dead and lead them on their journeys.
Then, the Christians showed up, and they immediately declared this festival and the practices of the Celts to be none other than pagan. For shame! Even though the missionaries and Celts had the same holy days, the Celt’s supernatural deities were deemed evil, and obviously correlated with the devil. Spooky, indeed. Once the devil was deemed to be involved, the Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st, with the main goal of replacing Samhain for good.
Unfortunately for the missionaries, the beliefs associated with Samhain (traveling dead, submitting offerings, being generally spooky, the works) didn’t die out. Humans are stubborn after all! Instead, the evening prior to All Saints Day, October 31st, became the day of most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but since the Christians thought them to be evil, gifts of food and drink were set out to prevent mischief and simply send the dead on their way. As a result, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en.
So what about the costumes and the parties? Well, much like Día de Los Muertos, Halloween and all of it’s demonized goodness also became a chance to play with the dead, creating a relationship between the dead and the living that went as far as to dress up as the very things allowed to travel through the living realm. Now, the getting wasted and dressing up as a mouse (duh) aren’t exactly what the original holiday was meant to study, but hey, letting the dead roam around, being with friends, and enjoying food and drink is a pretty great way to spend the last day of October.
Stay spooky, witches and warlocks.