Halloween has been around for about 2000 years, starting as a pagan celebration honoring the spirits of deceased family and other members of their communities. The Irish, Scots and Early British, we call them the ‘Celts’, had religious beliefs based on the natural world, giving spirit to the flora and fauna of the woodlands. At the end of summer, around the last of October, they held a festival called ‘Sanhain’, (pronounced sah-win).
During Sanhain the Druids, or priests, would light a large bon-fire, and villagers would dress in animal skins in readiness for the coming of the spirits of the deceased. The Celts believed that this one time of year was when the dead and the living could ‘communicate’ with one another, with magical things possibly taking place. Children went door-to-door asking for fruit and nuts, and later would bob for apples in tubs of water.
Roman rule and ‘Feralia’ and ‘Pomona’.
By A.D. 42, much of the lands of the Celts were under Roman rule. The romans brought their gods and goddesses to these settlements where they were incorporated into the local traditions. Feralia, or the roman celebration of the dead was made a part of Sanhain, as was the celebration of Pomona. Pomona, the roman goddess of fruits and trees was honored in the fall of the year, so it was natural to have her celebration added to Sanhain.
Christianity takes over
By around A.D. 800, the influence of Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands. The Christian church found it difficult to convert the Celts because they didn’t want their festivals done away with. The Christian church understood the degree to which superstition played a role in the pagan’s beliefs, so Pope Boniface IV, head of the Roman Catholic Church, decided on a bold move. He incorporated the pagan festival of Sanhain into the festival of the church.
November 1st was designated as All Saints Day, to honor the Saints and Martyrs of the church. The night before, Sanhain, ended up being called All Hallows, or All-Hallowmas. It didn’t take too long before All-Hallowmas became All-Hallows Eve, or Halloween.
Halloween comes to the New World
Early on in America’s history, immigrants from Ireland and Scotland brought Halloween to our shores. Where in the old country they had used turnips and potatoes for jack-o-lanterns, they discovered the pumpkins growing here to be more suitable, and bigger to use. Since that time, the festival we call Halloween has spread across the English speaking world. Some countries still forbid anyone from celebrating the holiday, but in most cases, it is here to stay.
“Litany for Halloween”
From ghoulies to ghosties,
Long leggety beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us.
The pictures in the slide show accompanying this story are used by courtesy of www.magicalgraphics.com.