It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling from the trees, the darkness creeps up earlier and it has become cooler at night. Houses are being decorated with pumpkins, ghosts, ghouls or anything creepy. Halloween must be upon us.
When I was a child, I enjoyed Halloween as every kid does. What could be better than dressing up in your chosen costume and going door to door to be given free candy just for saying trick-or-treat? Not to mention that most of the adults that handed out all those great treats would profess how cute or scary you looked. What a great night!
Although I had a general idea as I grew a little older that this holiday originated from some sort of pagan ritual, I truly had no idea exactly what the story was. When I thought of these rituals, I was reminded of images from movies. Scantily clad people, running around one another in a trance like state, sacrificing animals around a huge fire.
I have found that this isn’t the case.
Halloween originates from a Celtic festival called Samhain. It was celebrated on Oct. 31 and was considered the New Year’s Day for the Celts. It was a harvest festival that was celebrated with joy. The Celts believed that on this day the dead wandered around and could re-enter the bodies of the living. They provided food and drink for the lost souls and dressed up in masks and costumes to scare the spirits away. Samhain eventually came to be called Eve of All Saints or Hallow Even. Hallow Even then came to be Halloween. This tradition was brought to America sometime in the 1840s by the Irish. Skeletons, ghosts and devil costumes arouse from this thought of the dead walking the earth.
This holiday isn’t exclusive to America, it’s celebrated in many countries. Canada and England are equivalent to the U.S. in their festivities. In many other countries such as Austria, Belgium and Sweden candles are lit and offerings of food and water are set out for dead relatives. Slovakians position chairs around the fireplace for living and dead relatives. In China, there’s a Halloween-style celebration called “Teng Chieh” in which food and water is placed in front of photographs of the dead and lanterns lit for spirits to find their way. The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is the Hong Kong tradition where pictures of fruit or money are burned to bring comfort to ghosts and in Japan. There’s the “Obon Festival” in which special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are lit to float down rivers for the spirits of ancestors. Many Latin American countries celebrate what’s known as “The Day of the Dead.” It’s a three-day celebration of joy and happiness designed to honor the dead with food, drink and parades.
Even though most countries celebrate the dead, this has never been the case for America. What once was an innocent and fun occasion for children has become an outrageous affair for adults. Although most of us still get the usual barrage of children ringing the doorbell for the candy handout, Halloween seems to be a huge party and costume event for adults as well. There is an abundance of choices for celebrating, which seems to be equally as important as what type of costume to wear, especially wearing very little clothing for some people. I have often wondered what the big deal is. Just throw something together right? Wrong. Just like when we were kids, it’s important for us to express ourselves and Halloween is the perfect time for that. It allows some of us to let our alter ego rule us for a night, induces our imaginations immensely and is reminiscent of our fun childhood experiences of dressing up and being the center of attention. We’re free to go wild and it’s acceptable, even if it’s only for a night.
If you are planning to celebrate tonight, put on a special costume, grab your friends or that special someone and party until you drop. Remember this day only comes one time a year!
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