Halloween Originates from Celtic Traditions

October 29, 2004

IN the United States, Halloweenhas boomed into the second-largestcommercial holiday, generating morethan $6.9 billion in sales annually.While many Costa Ricans haveadopted this tradition, others reject it asan unpatriotic or even anti-Catholictradition.However, the roots of this controversialholiday are neither NorthAmerican, nor far removed from thescope of Christianity.Halloween was born from theCelts, who populated what is now theUnited Kingdom, Ireland and northernFrance more than 2,000 years ago.On the Celtic calendar, Nov. 1marked the beginning of the new yearand the winter season. The Celts celebratedtheir new year on Oct. 31 with afestivity known as Samhuinn orSamhain (pronounced sow-in), meaning“summer’s end.” Their harsh wintersoften brought prolonged darkness,hunger and death, conditions which theCelts attributed to spirits from theworld of the dead and the unborn thatvisited the earth on the night of Oct.31.THE Celts believed on this night,the veil between this and the otherworld became thin enough to allowCeltic priests, known as Druids, toengage in the art of divination. On thisnight, Druids built giant bonfires,around which the Celts gathered to telltheir fortunes, wearing animal headsand skins, their versions of our modernday Halloween costumes.During the 800s, after the Romanshad conquered and broughtChristianity to Celtic lands, PopeBoniface IV proclaimed Nov. 1 AllSaints’ Day, in what many peoplebelieve was an attempt to substitute theSamhain festival with a church holidayin honor of saints and martyrs. Theword “Halloween” derives from themiddle-English Alholowmesse, meaningAll Saints’ Day, which was alsoreferred to as All-hallows or All-hallowmas.Oct. 31 started being calledAll-hallows Eve and finally,Halloween.Trick-or-treating came along afterthe church appointed Nov. 2 All Souls’Day, or the Day of the Dead. Duringearly All Souls’ Day celebrations inEngland, poor people begged for foodand families would hand them “soulcakes” in exchange for prayers for theirdeceased relatives. The church promotedthis practice to eliminate the traditionof leaving wine and food toappease wandering spirits.THE practice of dressing in costumesevolved from the Samhain festivity.People were afraid to run intospirits who visited the earth on thenight of Oct. 31. They disguised themselvesin masks and costumes so spiritswould confuse them for other ghostsand not identify them as humans.(Info on the ancient origins ofHalloween from the History Channel’sOnline Halloween Exhibit.)

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