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With Halloween a few days away, I saw this article and though it interesting
enough to send along.
Like Christmas and Easter, the original reason for the Halloween season was
religious. Halloween's roots are firmly planted in Ireland, where the Celts
celebrated Samhain, a New year's festival that marked the onset of winter.
There are a lot of myths about the Celts and the festival including one that
claims that Samhain was a ceremony to honor Saman, Lord of the Dead. But many
researchers believe that as Christianity spread, the fable was invented to
discredit Druidism. During the Samhain celebration household fires were
extinguished and then relighted from a single bonfire kindled by a Druid
priest. The bonfire paid homage to the sun.
The Celts believed that on this night, the laws of reality were a bit fuzzy,
allowing the mortal world and the spirit world to commingle. All the spirits
that had passed on would gather that night to find a new body to inhabit. To
keep the spirits from regaining life and to send them on their journey to the
afterlife, people dressed as witches and goblins in order to appear
unappealing to roving ghosts and to frighten them away.
Halloween also has a bit of Christianity in it, as well. Medieval church
leaders once honored departed saints with a feast day in May. But in A.D.
834, Pope Gregory III designated Nov 1, a pagan holiday, as a feast day for
all Christian saints called All Hallow's Day, also known as All Saints Day
Somewhere along the cultural evolutionary road, Sanhain sort of merged with
All Saint's Day to form Halloween, which is actually Hallow's e'en (All
Saints Day Eve). There's no doubt that Halloween came to this country through
Irish immigrants in the 1800's, but there's some debate on where the
trick-or-treat tradition originated.
Those fun-loving Celts would go around in disguise, seeking contributions in
the name of Muck Olla. Those who weren't generous raced the wrath of the
Druid bogey-man. While several cultures have trick-or-treat customs, it's
widely held that our modem version goes back to 9th Century Europe and the
practice called "souling."
Christians walked from village to village begging for soul cakes, a sort of
square biscuit with currents. Those asking for the cakes promised, in return,
to pray for the dead relatives of the givers. If a soul was caught in limbo,
a large number of prayers could free it, so the more prayers, the better.
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