Gaelic and Welsh influence
The lighting of bonfires by the ancient Celts may have influenced the lighting of bonfires on All Hallows' Eve
Today's Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity. Indeed, Jack Santino, an academic folklorist, writes that "the sacred and the religious are a fundamental context for understanding Halloween in Northern Ireland, but there as throughout Ireland an uneasy truce exists between customs and beliefs associated with Christianity and those associated with religions that were Irish before Christianity arrived". Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain", which comes from the Old Irish for "summer's end". Samhain (pronouncedsah-win or sow-in) was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was held on or about 31 October – 1 November and kindred festivals were held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts; for example Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany). Samhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs up until the 19th century, and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.
Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year. Like Beltane/Calan Mai, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as "degraded versions of ancient gods [...] whose power remained active in the people's minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs". The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of Godwhen approaching their dwellings. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world. In 19th century Ireland, "candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this the eating, drinking, and games would begin". Throughout the Gaelic and Welsh regions, the household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one's future, especially regarding death and marriage. Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the "powers of growth" and holding back the decay and darkness of winter. Christian minister Eddie J. Smith suggests that the bonfires were also used to scare witches of "their awaiting punishment in hell".
Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland
In modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising, the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century. This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. It may have come from the Christian custom of souling (see below) or it may have a Gaelic folk origin, with the costumes being a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. F. Marian McNeill suggests the ancient festival included people in costume representing the spirits, and that faces were marked (or blackened) with ashes taken from the sacred bonfire. In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod. In the late 19th and early 20th century, young people in Glamorgan and Orkney dressed as the opposite gender. In parts of southern Ireland, the guisers included a hobby horse. A man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses—some of which had pagan overtones—in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'; not doing so would bring misfortune. Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and hobby horses were part of other yearly festivals. However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers". As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Wearing costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks. The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins". These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in 19th century, as well as in Somerset (see Punkie Night). In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns.
Today's Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows' Day (also known as All Saints', Hallowmas or Hallowtide) on 1 November and All Souls' Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows' Eve. Since the time of the primitive Church, major feasts in the Christian Church (such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) had vigils which began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows'. These three days are collectively referred to as Hallowmas and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven. All Saints was introduced in the year 609, but was originally celebrated on 13 May. In 835, it was switched to 1 November (the same date as Samhain) at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. Some suggest this was due to Celtic influence, while others suggest it was a Germanic idea. It is also suggested that the change was made on the "practical grounds that Rome in summer could not accommodate the great number of pilgrims who flocked to it", and perhaps because of public health considerations regarding Roman Fever – a disease that claimed a number of lives during the sultry summers of the region.
On All Hallows' Eve, many Christians around the world visit graveyards to pray and place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones.
By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing church bells for the souls in purgatory. In addition, "it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls." "Souling", the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls, has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating. The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century and was found in parts of England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Hallowmas, collecting soul cakes as a means of praying for souls in purgatory. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593). The custom of wearing costumes has been explicated by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: "It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to thenext world. In order to avoid being recognised by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities". In the Middle Ages, churches displayed the relics of martyred saints and those parishes that were too poor to have relics let parishioners dress up as the saints instead, a practice that some Christians continue in Halloween celebrations today. Academic folklorist Kingsley Palmer, in addition to others, has suggested that the carved jack-o'-lantern, a popular symbol of Halloween, originally represented the souls of the dead. On Halloween, in medieval Europe, "fires [were] lit to guide these souls on their way and deflect them from haunting honest Christian folk." In addition, households in Austria, England, Ireland often had "candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes". These were known as “soul lights”. Many Christians in continental Europe, especially in France, acknowledged "a belief that once a year, on Hallowe'en, the dead of the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival," known as the danse macabre, which has been commonly depicted in church decoration, especially on the walls of cathedrals,monasteries, and cemeteries. Christopher Allmand and Rosamond McKitterick write in The New Cambridge Medieval History that "Christians were moved by the sight of the Infant Jesus playing on his mother's knee; their hearts were touched by the Pietà; and patron saints reassured them by their presence. But, all the while, the danse macabre urged them not to forget the end of all earthly things." This danse macabre, which was enacted by "Christian village children [who] celebrated the vigil of All Saints" in the 16th Century, has been suggested as the predecessor of modern day costume parties on this same day.
In parts of Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as some Protestants berated purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination. Thus, for some Nonconformist Protestants, the theology of All Hallows’ Eve was redefined; without the doctrine of purgatory, "the returning souls cannot be journeying from Purgatory on their way to Heaven, as Catholics frequently believe and assert. Instead, the so-called ghosts are thought to be in actuality evil spirits. As such they are threatening." Other Protestants maintained belief in an intermediate state, known as Hades (Bosom of Abraham), and continued to observe the original customs, especially candlelit processions and the ringing of church bells in memory of the dead. With regard to the evil spirits, on Halloween, "barns and homes were blessed to protect people and livestock from the effect of witches, who were believed to accompany the malignant spirits as they traveled the earth." In the 19th century, in parts of England, Christian families gathered on hills on the night of All Hallows' Eve. One held a bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the rest knelt around him in a circle, praying for the souls of relatives and friends until the flames went out. This was known as teen'lay, derived either from the Old English tendan (meaning to kindle) or a word related to Old Irish tenlach (meaning hearth). The rising popularity ofGuy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, saw many Halloween traditions appropriated by that holiday instead, and Halloween's popularity waned in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland. There and in Ireland, they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since at least the early Middle Ages, and the Scottish kirk took a more pragmatic approach to Halloween, seeing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country. In France, Christians, on the night of All Hallows' Eve, prayed beside the graves of their loved ones, setting down dishes full of milk for them. On Halloween, in Italy, families left a large meal out for ghosts of their passed relatives, before they departed for church services. In Spain, women, on this night, made special pastries known as “bones of the holy” (Spanish: Huesos de Santo) and put them on the graves of the churchyard, a practice that continues to this day.
Spread to North AmericaNorth American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Halloween, and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in earnest. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.
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