Tomorrow, people are dressing up in costumes to celebrate Halloween. This time of the year is one for celebration and superstition. The name Halloween is derived from "All Hallow's Eve." Hallow means sanctified or holy. To learn of this holiday, we look to the Catholic Church and previous pagan holidays. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.
To start off, November 1st is All Saints Day which was established on that day by Pope Gregory IV which was a day to honor all saints and martyrs of the faith. The Pope set it to this day to have it coincide with the harvests so as to provide food for the pilgrims. It was Pope Sixtus IV, nearly 6-centuries later, who gave All Saints Day a vigil which is the eve of a festival or holy day which became known as "All Hallow's Eve" and can also be named "All Saints' Eve." Many believe Sixtus did this to substitute a feast day over a pagan holiday.
Prior to this substitution, there were pagan festivals in place, the most well-known is the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts; Samhain is said to mean "summer's end" in Gaelic. There is evidence of this festival that dates back two millennia in what is now Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and northern France. Pagans, and Wiccans today, believe that the boundary between the world of the dead and the world of the living became blurred on this day, and that the ghosts of the dead would return to the world and make it easier for priests to predict the future. This holiday also marked the end of the year and November 1st marked the beginning of winter to the ancient Celts.
The modern practice of wearing costumes goes back to the ancient Celts who wore costumes to trick the spirits that were among them. Bowls of food were also placed without the doors of their houses to prevent spirits and ghosts from entering the premises. After the Roman Empires conquest of Celtic territory, two Roman festivals were combined with Samhain. The first one was Feralia, a day that commemorated the passing of the dead, and the second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the inclusion of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that are practiced today on Halloween.
All Hallow's Eve being a Catholic holiday, it is not surprising that it came to America through Maryland, a predominately Catholic colony/state. Those early Halloweens were marked with parties, public celebrations of the harvest, and sharing stories of the dead. Halloween wouldn't be popularized until the second half of the 19th century when America was flooded with Irish immigrants. Over the years, Halloween lost its superstitious nature and became a secular holiday.
I hope everyone enjoys this night and stays safe. Happy All Hallow's Eve.
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