We all know the modern celebration of Halloween, the scary movies, trick or treaters, costumes and of course candy galore. Consumerism and American influence has taking the real meaning out of a very traditional celtic celebration - so much so that Halloween is now the 2nd biggest celebration of the year, right behind Christmas. But what is the real meaning of Halloween and how did it come about?
The festival of Samhain is a gaelic celebration that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Samhain, which translates to the festival of darkness, was a time used by the ancient pagans to stock up on supplies and prepare for winter. The pagan new year began on All Hallows Day, November 1st, and the ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, on the eve of All Hallows Day (hence the name Hallow-en), the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.
As Christianity started to spread across Europe, especially in Ireland and Scotland, it faced big challenges to downplay and push aside many pagan traditions and celebrations. It introduced All Saints Day, this was originally known as All Martyrs Day and was celebrated on the 13th May, but in 837AD, in order to combat the popularity of All Hallow's Eve in the pagan calendar, Pope Gregory IV changed the name to remember all the saints and move the date to the 1st November. Some time later, around 998AD, the church introduced All Souls day, this day is intended to pay respect and remember the souls of all friends and loved ones who have died and gone to heaven. The day is also used to pray for the lost souls of purgatory, by praying for these souls their sins may be cleansed and then received into heaven.
The introduction of All Saints and All Souls did little to stem the popularity of Hallows Eve and over time customs and traditions from each of the celebrations would blend into one, most notably Trick or Treating. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging from door to door for treats goes back to the medieval practice of “souling,” when the poor and less well off in society would go looking for food from wealthy families on the 31s & 1st, in return they would offer to say prayers for their dead on All Souls Day.
While christian and pagans beliefs differ enormously, it is important to realise that all three dates revolve around the spirit world and honouring the dead, so when you celebrate Halloween, remember, in the days after to spare a thought for family and friends’ that have passed