“This is Halloween! This is Halloween!” she sings at the top of her lungs, and off-key
Megan Amato, Associate News Editor
I love Halloween. Give me witches, vampires, ghosts and goblins. I delight in spooky films and well-written stories, walks along gravestones, on-the-spot ghost tales, jack-o-lanterns and haunted houses. I enjoy the spirit of it as children knock on my door to ask for sweets, and the next day when all those sweets are 50 percent off. But what I love most about Halloween is the folklore and history. Where did it come from? Is it an unknown tradition from the vaults of time? An outdated Pagan holiday? A satanic ritual meant to corrupt innocent minds? Did it come from witches who celebrated All Hallow’s Eve or is it all a marketing scheme from Nestle to sell more chocolate? Let me put my glasses on, straighten my posture and clear my mental voice as I tell you the slightly magical and abridged story of Halloween.
Like everything else over time, Halloween has evolved, adapted and changed to fit the ideals, values and culture of people. It began with the Celts, with Samhain (SAH-win): you may have heard the word, seen it somewhere, perhaps in that witchy subscription box you bought off Etsy. A long time ago, mostly on an isle that we now associate with leprechauns, Guinness, U2, and The Cranberries (Zombie, Zombie, ZOM-bie-bie-bie), the Celt’s commemorated the equinoxes and solstices with a series of festivals. Samhain–translates to “summer’s end” in Gaelic–was a festival led by Druid priests that marked the end of the harvest season with communal fires, animal sacrifices and other nifty offerings. So how did it transform from a somewhat practical festival celebrating harvest to a spooky holiday? Some historians are convinced that the Celts left these offerings for fairies, spirits and deities to appease them because they believed that the barrier between the living and the dead was blurred during Samhain. Sure, it’s a bit like Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Possibly, though there is more physical evidence for Mexico’s holiday than this aspect of the Celtic festival. Despite that, many Celtic Reconstructionists and various identifying pagans continue to honour the dead and celebrate Samhain.
You might be wondering how this small harvest festival spread to the rest of the world, you can thank our good ol’ friend St. Patrick and the spread of Christianity. Remember those snakes he drove out of Ireland? They are representative of the uprooting of paganism in Ireland and the conversion of the country to Catholicism. After a few centuries, the restructuring of Samhain to fit Christian narratives and the movement of the day to Spring and back, All Saint’s Day was created by Pope Gregory III in the 9th century with the intention to celebrate, you guessed it, the saints on November 1st. This marked October 31 as All Saints Eve. Wave goodbye to heathen rituals and spirits, and say hello to rigid control and conformity (if you’re thinking that this girl has something against Christianity, you can blame my dearly departed mother who banned me from trick-or-treating one year) yet some traditions remained to make the transition from Paganism to Christianity smoother. After a few centuries and shifts in Chiristianity and heavy colonialism, All Saint’s Day was celebrated in many corners of the world.
Okay, but what about the commercialism, the costumes, pumpkin carving and candy? Halloween (Hallowe’en or All Hallow’s Eve), first recorded in a Robert Burn’s poem, was recorded in Scotland by dressing or “guising” as demons. My husband, who hails from a small village in the Southwest of Scotland, loves to go on about trick-or-treating’s Scottish origins and remembers reciting small poems, jokes or other “tricks” for his treats. “Neep Lanterns” were carved out of turnips rather than pumpkins and costumes typically had to be scary. The treats involved fruit, nuts or homemade treats rather than our beloved Kit-Kats. Where did these traditions come from, you ask? Well, it may go back to those lovely Celts who were said to have dressed up or “disguised” themselves as demons to blend in with said demons when the veil was lowered during Samhain. The tradition was brought to North America after the Irish Potato Famine, popularized the 1950’s and has since commercialized to become a billion dollar industry.
So should we celebrate Halloween? Absolutely. I love that a holiday altered by the church still has such solid pagan roots. If anything, let’s keep Halloween spooky, strange and paranormal. I’ve decided right at this moment to start a campaign called “Let’s Make Halloween Spooky Again.” Dress as demons, dance naked in the moonlight, gorge on that 100 box of Halloween candy while sitting on the couch dressed as a decaying witch. Celebrate old traditions and create new ones. As the unofficial authority on Halloween, I declare that it is here to stay.