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Your lifestyle, your quirk
It’s almost Halloween, StyleQuirkers, and this is hands-down my favorite time of year – from carving the jack-o-lantern to watching Hocus Pocus for the 100th time to handing out candy to adorable costumed kids! Not to mention that I love being scared (all in good fun, of course), so I’m thrilled to fill my weekends with haunted houses and horror movies.
But the Halloween that we celebrate today is very different from its early origins as the very sacred pagan holiday All Hallow’s Eve. All Hallow’s Eve combined elements of harvest festivals and celebrations honoring the dead, particularly drawing on the Celtic holiday Samhain.
More than 2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st, since this was the beginning of colder days and the harvest, and was also widely associated with death. These ancient Celts believed that this was the time when souls of the dead were most likely to walk amongst the living while trying to get to the afterlife. The Celts would leave food on their doorsteps at night as offerings to the wandering spirits and put a single candle in their window to guide the souls of deceased family members. The festival of Samhain involved the sacrifice of animals, vegetables and fruit to appease the dead and ward off evil spirits, the lighting of bonfires to honor the deceased. During the festival, Celts wore costumes (usually made from animal skins) and practiced fortune telling.
When the Celts were eventually conquered by the Roman Empire, their religion and beliefs became more influenced by Christianity and the Christian church was opposed to Samhain, considering it evil. In the seventh century, in an effort to make the celebration more Christian, Pope Boniface IV proclaimed November 1st as “All Saints Day,” which was also known as “All Hallows” or “All Hallowmas.” The name All Hallow’s Eve, meaning the night before All Saints Day, eventually morphed in to the modern name Halloween in the 16th century.
Today’s modern practice of trick or treating somewhat resembles late medieval practice of “souling,” which was when the poor in Ireland and Britain would go door to door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food on All Souls' Day, which was celebrated on November 2nd at that time. Hmm, sounds a lot more fun now! The first use of the term “trick or treating” appeared in 1927, but the practice didn’t gain widespread popularity in America until the mid-1930s.
While the Celts did incorporate costumes in to their Samhain ritual, our costumes today are probably more based on the Scottish and Irish tradition of Guising, which was when children disguised themselves by wearing costumes and went door to door for food or coins. Guising at Halloween became popular in Scotland in the late 1800s. Children would carry carved out turnips or gourds as lanterns and perform “tricks” such as singing, dancing, or even card tricks in exchange for treats like cakes and fruit. Halloween guising made its first documented appearance in North America in 1911, according to a newspaper in Ontario.
Today, Halloween is still an important part of the Wiccan religion, which draws on early pagan practices. One place where modern Halloween meets ancient sacred practices is Salem, Massachusetts, home to a large population of practicing Wiccans or “witches” (though please don’t expect them to have green faces and flying broomsticks!).
I look forward to sharing more about some of my favorite New England Halloween destinations this month! What are your favorite Halloween traditions?