The night of Halloween
How do varied cultures celebrate this event?
Next to Christmas, Halloween is the second most celebrated event of the year. Many people around the world spend billions of dollars for this occasion. But amid all the commercialism that comes with the celebration, millions of people remain unaware of its origins. Five days more to go and it’s Halloween! By now, many a cashier’s boxes are jingling with sales from costumes, decorations, greeting cards, and candy. While kids may already be wrapping up their itinerary for their trick-or-treating calls. Halloween is one of the most looked-forward-to events by many people around the world. Billions of dollars are spent every year on costumes, candies, decorations, and greeting cards for the occasion. But how many of us really know how Halloween came to be?
Ancient beginnings of Halloween
Halloween is actually more than just costumes and candy. It carries an interesting history. Although ancient records of this age-old custom present only scant and incomplete evidence, some remained common among cultures.
More than 2,000 years prior to the introduction of Christianity, there was already a Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sah-vin). This festival is celebrated on October 31. It marks the end of summer and the beginning of the dark winter in Gaelic Ireland. During the occasion, the Celts would perform sacrifices to the gods in Druidic tradition. Since they believe that not all spirits are friendly, they would leave gifts and treats on altars and at their doorsteps to pacify the evil, hoping that their crops on the following year would be plentiful. The Celts believed that Samhain, the lord of death, would deploy the evil spirits throughout the world on October 31 to attack humans with their nasty tricks. And so to escape the attack, humans would then assume disguises to make themselves look like evil spirits.
Neopaganism has also sprouted around the world. It’s one of the modern religious movements that try to emulate the beliefs and practices of the pre-Christian Europe and North America. Although, there are many kinds of Neopaganism, some of them share the same Samhain customs based on what the Celts practiced. Neopagans in the Northern Hemisphere hold their Samhain on October 31 - November 1. While those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate the occasion on April 30 - May 1. The celebration begins and ends at sundown. Other Neopagan factions have their Samhain at the astronomical midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice.
The Wiccan perspective
Advocates of Wicca, the official religion of witchcraft, regard October 31 as a traditional pagan Holy Day and Witches’ Sabbath. They refer to the day as November Eve, Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, Hallows, or All Hallows Eve. The occasion is one of their two high and holy days. Wiccans believe that on the night of October 31 the separation of physical and spiritual realities is at its thinnest and least guarded. They further believe that on this night, their deceased loved ones would rise from their grave to revisit their old houses. For this reason, they make sure to invite and pay respect to their ancestors, dead family members, friends, elders of the faith, and pets. And those who are gifted with necromantic talents find this an opportune time to speak to the dead.
The Christian perspective
The early Christian church had its own day of solemn remembrance of the martyrs. Introduced in the year 609, the occasion is called All Saints Day or All Hallows. It was originally celebrated on May 13. When Christianity began to spread through Europe, the missionaries were well aware of the established pagan traditions of the Celts. They knew that the influence of pagan rites and superstitions had successfully established a stronghold among the peoples. Fearing that the new Christian converts might be tempted to rejoin the pagan celebrations, Pope Gregory IV instructed Louis the Pious to move All Saints Day to November 1, right at the height of the Samhain festival. It was very well known that the Celts had a strong influence on their English neighbors. while, the English missionaries, in turn, had an influence on the Germans.
Since it was found that the churches in what we now know as England and Germany were already commemorating All Saints Day on November 1, Louis the Pious merely made it official in the year 835. Starting in the ninth century, the Christians’ time of remembrance begins on the evening before All Saints Day. It was called the All Hallows eve or ‘holy evening’. Eventually, the term was shortened to “Hallow-e’en”, which later became “Halloween”. Despite their efforts to introduce Christian alternatives, the missionaries succeeded only in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual. The early Church managed only to introduce Christian symbolism to the established superstitious practices.
Halloween of the present generation
In the present generation, meanwhile, Halloween has become almost exclusively a secular holiday. Many, if not most, of those who actively participate in the celebration, don’t have any idea of its pagan origins or religious custom. They do it because everyone else does. For them, it’s merely customary. Adults and families decorate their homes with pumpkins, lanterns, and other spooky images. And they throw parties in different costumes, too. While children dress up and visit the neighborhood to collect candies or other treats. Modern-day Halloween is, indeed, a highly commercialized occasion. It has become a huge and lucrative business for many retailers.
But no matter what our belief is, we should treat Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Since different cultures celebrate the occasion differently, let’s maintain a certain level of respect for one another.