Halloween History Around The World
The Celtic people, who lived more than 2000 years ago were more scared on the evening of October 31 than any other day of the year for this was the eve of their festival of Samhain.
Samhain was a joyful harvest festival that marked the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one.
The day itself was a time for paying homage to the sun god Baal who had provided the people with the ripened grain for use in the upcoming winter.
In the evening evening evil spirits were everywhere.
Charms and spells were said to have more power on the eve of Samhain.
Several rituals were performed by the Celtic priests, to appease the Lord of the Dead.
It was thought that at the feasts of Samhain and Beltaine (May 1st), supernatural events took place.
Some believe Samhain is the time the fairy mounds open and the Sidhe - the fairies - swarm.
Nevertheless, it was a dangerous time to be abroad at night for fear of abduction by the Sidhe as they traveled around the countryside.
Over hundreds of years, many of the customs and practices of the pagan Celts were absorbed into Christianity.
The folk traditions were taken to America by Irish emigrants, and the familiar "Trick or Treat" chant echoes old beliefs in the ill-wishing of witches.
Pope Boniface was instrumental in superimposing a Christian festival over the pagan tradition.
He adopted the festival of the dead to become the festival of all saints and martyrs.
Originally, it took place in May, but a century later, Pope Gregory III shifted it to November.
Today, much of the past beliefs have moved into the background as costumed children scamper about their local neighbourhoods begging a sweet in their annual celebration of Hallowe'en.
Certainly in America this is true.
In the 10th century the church named November 2nd as All Souls' Day in memory of all dead souls. Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day come so close together and are so similar that in some countries they merged together.
The witch is a central symbol of Halloween.
The name comes from the Saxon wica, meaning wise one.
When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin.
This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier.
Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams.
In England when new witches was initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick.
The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet.
When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the witch took their word for it.
An Irish myth tells of a man named Stingy Jack, who one day invited the Devil to have a drink.
He convinced the Devil to change into a sixpence in order to pay for the drink, but instead of paying for the drink he pocketed the sixpence beside a silver cross which prevented the Devil from changing back.
Jack made a deal with the Devil before letting him free.
For one year the Devil could not harrass Jack.
Next Halloween the Devil met up with Jack again, and Jack made another deal with him to be left alone.
Jack died within the year and was turned back from the Gates of Heaven.
He went to the Gates of Hell and the Devil told him to go away, as Jack had made him promise not to claim his soul.
Jack didn't want to leave because it was dark and he couldn't find his way.
The Devil tossed Jack a glowing coal and Jack put it inside a turnip, and ever since with this Jack-O'-Lantern, Jack has been roaming the faces of this earth.
Scottish children hollow out and carve large turnips and put candles in them. Irish children use turnips or potatoes.
In parts of England they used large beetroots. When the Scottish and the Irish came to the US they found pumpkins, which of course make a perfect Jack-O'-Lantern.
From earliest times people wore masks when droughts or other disasters struck.
They believed that the demons who had brought their misfortune upon them would become frightened off by the hideous masks.
Even after the festival of Samhain had merged with Halloween, Europeans felt uneasy at this time of the year.
Food was stored in preparation for the winter and the house was snug and warm.
The cold, envious ghosts were outside, and people who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being recognised.
Until very recently children would dress up as ghosts and goblins to scare the neighbours, but there was no trick or treating.
Around 40 years ago people began to offer treats to their costumed visitors.
In parts of England the poor once went to houses singing and begging for soul cakes or money.
Spanish people put cakes and nuts on graves on Halloween, to bribe the evil spirits.
In Germany and throughout the Western world, May 1, like November 1, is a day of traditional significance.
The 30th of April, the eve of May 1, is in areas of Germany, particularly the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht, or the eve of St. Walpurgis Day.
Witches are supposed to be especially active this day, as are spirits of the dead and demon creatures from the nether world.
In China, the care of the dead through prayers and sacrifices were part of a spring festival of purification and regeneration.
The first week of November is marked in many countries, especially those with a strong Catholic influence, with festivals concerned with death in a playful but serious way.
In Britain Guy Fawkes Day, 5 November, is celebrated in ways reminiscent of Halloween.
Guy Fawkes was accused of attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament on that day in 1605.
He was apprehended, hung, drawn, and quartered.
On 5 November 1606, the same Parliament declared the fifth of November a day of public thanksgiving.
The act of treason was viewed as part of a 'popish plot' against the Protestant government.
Because Holloween was associated with the Catholic church calendar, its importance diminished and faded to almost nothing until the tradition was brought back from the dead, so to speak by the Americans.
But the truth is that many of halloween's traditions shifted to the annual commemoration of the death of Guy Fawkes.
Today, for weeks in advance of 5 November, children prepare effigies of Fawkes, dummies known as Guys.
They set them out on street corners and beg passers-by for "a penny for the Guy" instead of the old cry of "trick or treat".
The eve of the fifth used to be known as 'Mischief Night' until the 19th century, when children were free to play pranks on adults, just as 30 October, the night before Halloween, is known as Mischief Night in many areas of the US
On the night of 5 November, Guys are burned in bonfires, just as the ancient Celts burned bonfires on 1 November.