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Halloween History

Halloween is generally believed to originate from the Celts about 2,000 years ago. The Celts were tribes in England and Northern France. When the Celts first started to settle down into villages, farming and cattle were the two major sources of food. Raising cattle was easy. On May first, you drove the cattle out into your field. On November first, you brought them back into the barn for the winter. Your entire year was two seasons - growing season and winter, life and death, beltane and samhain.

        For them, the first of November was Samhain (pronounced "SAW-en"), a festival of the dead, and a joyful harvest festival that marked the end of the summer. During this part of the year, food grew scarce and the plants all died. The day itself was a time for paying homage to the sun god Baal, who provided the people with the ripened grain for use in the upcoming winter. It was believed that on this day, between the old year and the new one, that the dead could walk the earth again. Spirits of those who had died during that year gathered that night, driven out of the bare woods and empty fields. This was not a fearful time as most of them considered the spirits to be guides to help them through life. The spirits returned to their homes, and needed the help of their kin to cross over to the land of the dead. Many people lit fires to guide the good spirits to them and to keep the evil ones away. Relatives would hollow out turnips and gourds and use them to carry the spirits to the proper location.

        Evil spirits, witches and goblins also roamed the earth on Samhain. To protect your relative's spirit, you'd paint a scary face on a gourd to chase the evil spirits away. To protect yourself, you'd also disguise yourself by painting your face with hideous paints or donning a wild costume. 

       In 43 AD, the Roman Empire conquered the Celts. Celts and Romans found themselves living in the same villages.  Some believe that the popular customs of Halloween show traces of the Roman harvest festival of Pomona, and of Druidism. These influences are inferred from the use of nuts and apples as traditional Halloween foods, and from the figures of witches, black cats, and skeletons commonly associated with the occasion. The colors of black and orange associated with Halloween today, were originated from this time, representing  Death and Harvest.

      Pope Boniface 4th felt that as long as the old festivals were still celebrated the church's control wasn't complete. Sometime during the fourth century, as Christianity was getting stronger, the Roman Church in England tried to stop the pagan ritual. Unable to do so, Pope Boniface decided to replace the old festival with a new festival.  The church created All Saints' Day; a holy day to honor all saints.

       The problem with All Saints' Day was it was a holy day not a festival. Also, being held in May, people simply celebrated both holidays. Two hundred years later, the church had still not succeeded in getting rid of the pagan holiday. Pope Gregory the 3rd had a new idea. He changed the rules so that All Saints' day always fell on the exact day as Samhain. To celebrate All Saints' Day, young men were to go door to door begging for food for the town poor. Villagers were allowed to dress up in costume to represent a saint. Now, instead of dressing up to chase away evil spirits, you dressed up to honor saints.

       For the next 700 years, the Church felt it had won the battle because the Celts celebrated All Saints' Day. The Celts, on the other hand, thought they had won because they still had their holiday with the original ceremonies. Neither realized that Samhain and All Saints' Day were blurring into one holiday. By the 1500's, you couldn't separate the two anymore. Of course, by this time, no one called it All Saints' Day. Now, it was All Hallows' Day. The night before All Hallows' Day, was of course, All Hallows' Evening. In the slang of the villagers, it was Hallow Evening, or simply Halloween.

       The original festival for the pagan Lord of the Dead became a festival of Christian dead. In the 10th century, the church named Nov. 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 tend to merge together.

        In the late 1800's, nearly 7.4 million immigrants came to America, bringing their European customs with them. Seven hundred thousand Irish Catholics came over during the seven-year potato famine alone. These immigrants may have brought their customs with them, but once they saw how plentiful pumpkins were in the New World, it didn't take them long to start hollowing out jack-o-lanterns instead of turnips.

       In 1921, Anoka, Minnesota celebrated the first official citywide observation of Halloween with a pumpkin bowl, a costumed square dance and two parades. After that, it didn't take Halloween long to go nationwide. New York started celebrating in 1923 and LA in 1925.



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