* Irene's Country Corner * - Halloween History and Traditions



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 In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain Eve was observed on October 31 at the end of summer by the ancient Celts, a tribal people who inhabited most of the Western and Central Europe. This date was also the eve of the new year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times and the occasion for one of the ancient fire festival, when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits.

 The date was connected with the return of herds from pasture, and laws and land tenures were renewed. The souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about.

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It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death.

People would also dress up in furs and scary masks. They hoped that the evil spirits would be scared away or would mistake them for animals and wouldn't try to possess their bodies.

Another tradition was for the peasants to go door to door, begging for food. The food would be left out to appease the spirits, with hopes that they would go back to the spirit world. Whoever gave food would receive a prayer from the peasants for good fortunes for the next year, but those that were stingy received eggs and rocks thrown at their homes, among other pranks.

In the 7th century, the Romans conquered England and brought many of their own traditions. One of these was the celebration of All Saints Day, established by the Catholic Church in the 9th century to honor Christian saints. It was was originally celebrated in May and by the 9th century, All Saints Day was moved to November 1st. All Soul's Day (a festival to celebrate all the dead souls and help purify the spirits of the dead) was added to November 2nd and is also connected to Halloween.

The Catholic Church hoped that the combination of the pagan celebration of Samhain with their own festival could make more people follow the Catholic religion. Samhain became known as All Hallows' evening or All Hallow's Eve (the eve before the hallowed days of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day). Eventually, All Hallow's Eve was shortened to Hallow E'en and then to Halloween as it is known today.
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In modern times, Halloween is the occasion for pranks and for children requesting treats or threatening tricks, dreseed up in Halloween costumes. They go from house to house asking for candies or other treats. According to this custom, children greet each homeowner with the cry "Trick or Treat," suggesting that some sort of prank will be played unless treats are provided.

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This page was created on: September 27th 2002.

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. Information obtained at Britannica, Encarta and Halloween Howl.

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