Friday, October 26, 2012

History of Halloween May Surprise You

When one thinks of Halloween dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and watching horror movies is what often comes to mind- but how many people know the true origin of the celebration on October 31st? 

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Halloween is a term first used in the 16th century. Many believe that the holiday comes from pagan roots, but what may be surprising to learn is that the etymology of the word is in fact, Christian. Researchers say that it can be linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning "summer's end." It was a festival to celebrate the last few days of the warm months and to prepare for the cold months ahead. It was believed that this was a time when the physical world was closest to the supernatural world and magical things could happen. On the eve of Samhain, the souls of the dead would visit their old homes. In order to protect themselves from these spirits, people would build huge bonfires and call to the gods to help them by sacrificing animals.

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It is also theorized that Halloween was heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saint's Day, which is also known as All Hallows. Traditionally, this was a time for honoring the saints, as well as those who had recently passed away but had still not ascended to Heaven. It was believed that on the eve of All Saint's Day, or All Hallow's Eve, the wandering souls would inflict revenge on the living before they made their departure. To avoid being victimized, Christians would disguise themselves by wearing masks and costumes. This tradition can still be seen today when children dress up and go trick-or-treating. 

Symbols associated with Halloween have developed over time. For example, carving pumpkins comes from the Samhain tradition of carving turnips into lanterns to honor and remember the dead. Turnips have still been used as a carving tradition in places like Ireland and Scotland, but immigrants who came to North America began using pumpkins because their size and softness makes them easier to carve. Gothic and horror imagery associated with Halloween derives mostly from classic horror films such as Frankenstein and The Mummy. 

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