Happy New Year! Yeah, you read that right. Because really, that’s how Halloween all began. The Celts new year was not January 1st, but November 1st. October 31st symbolized the end of light and harvest and November 1st marked the start of the shorter, darker days of winter. Makes sense when you think about it. And what’s New Year’s Eve without a party? Thus Samhain became quite the celebration.
With Samhain marking a time between light and dark, the Celts believed the dead mixed with the living those nights. It was not uncommon for people to wear animal masks with animal pelts (costumes) to frighten off any ghosts. Bonfires were lit to keep the dark at bay and also used for cleansing people of their past year’s transgressions (accomplished by walking between the pyres). Over time, people went from door to door seeking food and refreshment. They lit their way with hollowed out turnip-lanterns carved into spooky faces.
Later when the Romans conquered the Celts, they spliced their holidays with Roman holidays to make everyone more accepting of a unified calendar. Roman holidays meant to commemorate the dead and the goddess of fruits and seeds were combined with Samhain. Apple-themed Halloween décor, while adorably autumn festive, is an inadvertent nod to good ole Pomona, the goddess of fruits and all she bore in her incorporation into Samhain.
Later still, the Catholics tried to recoup the people’s celebrations by getting their own edge on Samhain. Since the holiday incorporated the dead, it was a great opportunity to honor all the dead saints and give prayers to those whose loved ones had died. Conveniently, this was called All Saint’s Day. They took the traditions of Samhain and added them in for good measure. There were bonfires and parades and even costumes as people now dressed up as saints, angels and demons (I bet they’d be appalled with the sexy angel and devil outfits of today hehehe).
On All Saint’s Day, the poor (who were always looking for a good excuse to score a free meal) would go from door to door and ask for food. They were given pastries called soul cakes in exchange for the promise to pray for the people’s deceased loved ones. There is speculation that this was the start of giving candy to people on Halloween.
When the Protestants fled to America, the All Saint’s Day celebrations fell by the wayside. It was not until the great waves of immigrants came into America that it was truly celebrated again. Albeit a little different, because it was now a melting pot of old and new and all different cultures. Granted some adjustments needed to be made to accommodate the new land, like using pumpkins in place of the dinky American turnips for the lanterns on Samhain.
Regardless of when Halloween existed or what it meant to those celebrating, Halloween has always held a special bit of exciting magic. Whether it was tossing an apple peel behind you in the hopes it would fall into the shape of the first initial of your future husband or warding off evil spirits with costumes or granting peace for the beloved deceased or even just landing a pillow case full of Snickers and Reese’s, Halloween has always been an extraordinary and exciting holiday guaranteed to leave lasting memories.
One of my fondest memories was the year my mom made me a My Little Pony costume. It was a pink leotard and stockings with bubblegum-pink felt hooves for my feet and hands and a horse shaped hat with blue yarn hair (yes, I had a blue yarn tail too – don’t judge me). In the day of plastic apron clothes and a snap band plastic mask (guaranteed to tangle in your hair and pop on your cheek), it was about the coolest costume I’d ever seen. My brother was not so lucky that year. He was a clown with thick, greasy white paint and a LOT of tears. Ahhh…little brothers…
What’s your favorite memory?