The Truth About Halloween

When it comes to scary fun, Halloween just might be the most wonderful time of the year. After all, when else can you dress up in goofy costumes, dance out into the brisk autumn air, and get free candy from the neighbors?

While Halloween is an important marker in our yearly rounds, most of us don't take it too seriously. Some people believe it's really for the kiddies and many adults delight in celebrating with fun decorations, a masquerade party or two, or hosting a creepy haunted house. And then we have those people who incorporate the macabre into their everyday life, for example Ozzy Ozbourne. Believe it or not, you can order bank checks decorated with creepy spiders, witches and bats. Yes really! Not the greatest idea for your business checks, unless of course you run a costume supply store or happen to be Ozzy's CPA.

There are those Puritans among us, of course, who completely miss the point. They denounce Halloween as a dastardly remnant of paganism, encouraging a fascination with death and even demon worship. Ironically, they're dead wrong. It might surprise you (and it would certainly surprise them!) to learn that Halloween is actually a traditional Christian holiday. Although that's not to say that it doesn't have its pagan roots...

Before Christianity took hold in the British Isles, the ancient Celts held a year-end harvest holiday call Samhain, in which they stored up food for winter, danced around a bonfire, and feasted heartily. The idea was to celebrate a bountiful year, and symbolically spit in the eye of the winter season bearing down upon them.

Two other fall festivals, the Roman holidays of Feralia and Pomona's Day, also contributed to modern Halloween. Feralia was a Roman holiday intended for mourning and remembering the dead, while Pomona's Day was a harvest festival honoring the goddess of fruits and trees. Does bobbing for apples make more sense now?

You've probably never heard of either Feralia and Pomona's Day, because in the 800s Christian authorities successfully merged those holidays with Samhain in an attempt to replace all three. The new blended holiday was called All Saints Day, and was set aside for honoring saints and martyrs. The official feast day was November 1, though people usually began observances at sunset on the previous night, All Saints Eve. Some dressed as Christian saints to frighten any evil spirits that might be lurking about, and then haunted their neighbors, begging for food.

Later, the Church established All Souls Day on November 2, for all those people who weren't saints or martyrs, and revelers went door-to-door asking for little buns called "soul cakes" to commemorate the dead of those households. By 1500 AD, the holidays were celebrated together as Hallow-Tide, which began on All Hallows Eve, October 31. After a few centuries, "All Hallow's Eve" was worn down by common usage to "Halloween."

So despite the rhetoric, Halloween is in fact a holy holiday. Sure, it has its ancient, pre-Christian roots; most holidays to. And if some of those roots are associated with mourning, well, others are associated with hope, renewal, love of life, and good fun. Maybe you didn't know that intellectually when you ordered that Nightmare Before Christmas checkbook cover with Jack Skellington on it -- but you knew it in your heart, didn't you?

Published with permission (FCDMInc)