Origin and Meaning of Halloween
Halloween is probably the favorite holiday of every child. It combines the appealing attractions of eating lots of candy and wearing scary costumes. Candy and spider webs, pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, and ghosts and goblins – all come together to make this holiday a spectacular one. But, how many of us really know the true meaning and history behind Halloween? If you don’t, then, read on to find out.
There is a deeper, and spiritual meaning behind Halloween. It underlies the holiday for the Pagans and the real witches – the ones who follow the traditions of earth based Goddesses and predate Christianity. As the individuals living in the Northern Hemisphere begin moving into the time of dark and cold winters, they celebrate their New Year, and honor both regeneration and death. In Northern Europe, the time when the cattle were moved from the pastures of summer to the shelters of winter is known as Samhain. It is Celtic term for Halloween, and is pronounced as ‘sow-in’ as in ‘sour’. It signified the time when the growth season ended, harvest ended, and a time for thanksgiving. It was the times when the spirits and ancestors of the beloved dead would come back home to participate in the grand feast which was held at that time. It was believed that the connection between the community and the ones who had passed away were not severed upon one’s death. Individuals would leave offerings of drink and food for their loved ones who had passed away. They would also light candles to shine their way home. These traditions provided several of the present day customs which are observed now a days. At present, jack o’ lanterns are set out and children are given offerings of candies. It is believed that the children are the ancestors who have come back to us in a new form.
The theories of death and regeneration are always associated with the Goddess theology. It is believed that birth, growth, death, and renewal is a continuous cycles which keeps on playing over and over again via human lives and the system of Nature. When this cycle is embraced, an individual does not need to fear death. Instead, he or she can view death as a stage of an individual’s life cycle, and a gateway to a new form of being. Thus, Samhain is a hallowed time for remembering and honoring those who have died. It is done to celebrate their lives, and appreciate their gifts, and to tell stories about our ancestors to the next generation, so that their memories are never lost.
In Latin cultures, the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2, just 2 days after Halloween. They visit the graves of loved ones, organize feasts, and honor the memory of the loved ones with prayers and altars. Altars are set up at homes, with mementos and pictures. At some places, friends and family are invited to a dinner honoring their ancestors, cook traditional food, and share stories about their families. Samhain is also a time for deep spiritual work. It is the time of the year when it is believed that the ‘veil which separates our world and the spirit world becomes so thing that spirits are easily able to cross through.
The Christian history of Halloween goes something like this. Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon on 13th May, 609AD to honor the Christian martyrs and the All Martyrs Day was created by the Western Church. This day incorporates some of the Celtic Samhain traditions. Pope Gregory III later shifted the day from May 13th to November 1st, and included all saints and martyrs as well. The day, then, came to be known as All Saints’ Day. On November 2nd, the church observed All Souls’ Day in honor of the dead. This day was celebrated in a similar fashion to the Samhain Festival with parades, playing dress-up in costumes of devils, angels, and saints, and with celebrations around big bonfires. The celebration on this day was also known as All-Hallowmas or All-hallows and the night before came to known as the All-hallows Eve in honor of the Samhain festival. This day would, eventually, be known as Halloween.
The story of why faces are carved on pumpkins is like this. According to an old Irish legend, scary faces were carved on numerous vegetables in order to scare away ‘Stingy Jack’. Legend has that a farmer know as Stingy Jack tried to sell his soul to the devil. He tricked Satan into making a deal with him, and then, tricked him again and kept his soul for himself. However, after his death, God didn’t let him into heaven. So, it is believed that his soul is still stuck between hell and heaven. So, in order to frighten him away, people started to carve faces into vegetables to scare him away.
So, this is the history and origin of Halloween. Now, you know.