Wednesday, October 1, 2008

15 Minutes : Know It : History of Halloween

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Every year when October 31st rolls around I'm always curious to know the specifics of how Halloween became an American tradition (although celebrated in several western countries) and why it is I'm willing to dress my children up in costume and parade from door-to-door asking for treats? Apparently, we have assimilated a tradition by the Celtics dating back 2,000 years ago. Of course the tradition has evolved into something entirely it's own but this year when my kids start asking questions about Halloween I'll be able to give them a quick history of why we get to celebrate this fun holiday.

The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st because it marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the long, cold winter which too frequently meant death. They believed the night before the new year the veil between the living and dead became very thin and the ghosts of the dead would arise on the earth and cause trouble and ruin their crops. They built huge bonfires to offer crops and animals as a sacrifice for their gods.

During the 400 years the Celts were under Roman rule their new year was combined with two Roman holidays: (1) Ferelia--commemorating the passing of the dead and (2) a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Ponoma's symbol was the apple which could explain the practice of bobbing for apples around Halloween time.

It is widely believed today that Pope Boniface IV during the 800s was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday by creating November 1st as All Saints' Day.

The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of the Celtic holiday Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Although the origins of costumes and trick-or-treating are, at best, fuzzy. It is believed these traditions started sometime during the 1930s to encourage less unruly behavior and create a safer environment for all.

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