|Halloween is the holiday we celebrate on October 31, a festive day
of dressing in costume and visiting the homes of friends and neighbors to ask for "treats" (hopefully candy- the BIG bars).
We decorate our homes with carved pumpkins and images of ghosts, witches, bats, spiders and skeletons.
Where did we get this crazy tradition? The roots of Halloween stretch back many centuries
and can be traced to the celebration of the end of the harvest season. By the end of October, the ancient societies had finished
harvesting their crops, and were preparing for the non-growing season, or season when crops were "dead". The first day in
November was called All Hallows Day (or All Hallowtide), a solemn day of remembrance for deceased relatives. Religion dictated
that on All Hallows Day, the souls of those who died in the year previous would finally find their peace. On the night before,
however, All Hallow's Eve, the spirits of those dead would return to walk the earth one last time. Now, not everyone who had
died that year was necessarily good- every year saw its share of evil people who had also died. To keep those evils spirits
from entering their homes, people would dress in disguise to scare the spirits away.
Christians celebrated November 1 as All Souls Day, and may have originated the tradition
that became our "trick or treating". The custom of "soulling" involved beggars going from home to home, asking for treats
called "soul cakes". In return for a cake, the beggar promised to say prayers of indulgence for the deceased relatives of
the people giving the cakes. These prayers were considered critical to ensure the quick passage of souls to heaven.
The Jack O'Lantern comes from an Irish folktale about a wily man named Jack who tricked
the Devil, but who also angered God. The upshot of the tale is that Jack was condemned to walk the earth forever, with only
a candle inside a squash to light his way.
Halloween is associated with the images of ghosts (from the days of All Hallows Day),
witches, skeletons and bats. The connection with witches probably comes from the Puritans in America, who considered the Wiccan
celebration of the October harvest an evil event, and of course, who severely punished "witches". Spiders and bats are just
plain creepy to most people, and the fact that bats are night creatures makes them perfect animals for Halloween.
Skeletons, of course, represent the dead, bringing the story of Halloween back to
the beginning, to the celebration of life and death. Americans make a gleeful day of Halloween, but Mexico's Day of the Dead is an incredible celebration.