A bit of Halloweenery

Some interesting facts about Halloween:

– When did Halloween begin?

The original Halloween goes back over 2000 years ago to what is now France and the British Isles. The people who lived there, called the Celts, feared the evening of October 31 more than any night of the year because it was the night before their festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. On that night, the Celts believed all sorts of spirits would come out and go to each household, demanding to be fed. They left food out, hoping the spirits wouldn’t do harmful things. They also built great bonfires to frighten the spirits away. As time went on, the Celts became converted to Christianity so Christians changed some of the old rites and symbols: instead of having Samhain, a day for spirits, the Church kept the holiday but made it a day for saints and November 1 became All Saints Day and the evening of October 31 All Hallows Even, which later got shortened to Halloween. Thanks to Scottish and Irish immigrants, Halloween was brought to the United States in the 19th century.

– Why is Halloween a night for spooks?

To the early Celts, October 31 marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter (a time of snow, ice, great cold and long dark nights). They knew many people would die during the harsh winter. On this evening, they believed the Gods of Death and Darkness called forth the spitirs of all the people who had died the past year. They believed the spirits could change shapes and be whatever they wanted to be as they roamed through the night doing harmful things, or at least creating a lot of mischief.

– Why do people wear costumes and masks on Halloween?

At the beginning, people who went out after dark wore costumes and masks to prevent the spirits from recognizing them. Christianity changed the way people felt about Halloween  leaving fear gradually and giving way to enjoyment. And part of the enjoyment of Halloween was dressing up as goblings, ghosts and witches to scare friends and neighbours.

Why do people trick-or-treat?

It wasn’t until 50 or 60 years ago that people began to offer candy and other treats to their costumed visitors. But good news spreads fast, and soon children were knocking on doors and shouting ‘trick or treat!’

– Why are witches connected with Halloween?

Witches are probably the biggest symbol of Halloween. In the Middle Ages, witches were thought of as evil creatures who flew through the night to secret meetings. One of their biggest meeting nights was October 31. Since people believed  angels and devils could fly, it was easy to believe witches could fly.  Naturally, people’s imaginations made her an ugly, evil-looking hag, cloaked in black (the colour of death and night) with scraggly hair, bony fingers and a black cat.

– Why are cats, bats and owls symbols of Halloween?

Celts thought cats were holy or sacred. They also believed cats were human beings who had been changed to animals as punishment for evil deeds. People feared black cats because they were thought to be witches’ pets, bad luck and bearers of death and destruction. The cat, the bat and the owl were creatures of the night, able to move with ease and freedom during darkness hours when humans left blinded and helpless. Superstitions developed when people thought animals of the night must be the work of evil spirits or the devil.

– Where did the jack-o-lanters come from?

The first jack-o-lanterns carried by Irish, Scottish and Brittish children were hollowed-out turnips, beets and potatoess lit by red-hot coals. Legend says it all started with a mean, stingy, crafty man named Jack. When Jack died, according to the story, he was turned away from the gates of heaven and sent to the devil, who didn’t want him either! Jack cried that he had nowhere to go and it was dark to see. Someone threw him a red-hot coal; he was told to put it in a carved-out turnip and wander the earth until Judgement Day.

Not until people came to the United States as settlers did they discover pumpkins, which made perfect lanterns and became a symbol of Halloween.

… Enjoy the night!! 🙂


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