Halloween is probably one of the most popular holidays for children, and adults who are children at heart. Between dressing up as favourite characters, going to parties and of course, Halloween-centred treats, it’s the one day that seems to be the perfect start to all the cold-weather holiday fun.
But what some people may not know is that Halloween has a unique history that will give perspective to some of our modern customs.
Halloween, or as it’s spelt in some circles, ‘Hallowe’en’, has its roots in the Pagan festival known as Samhain (SOW-wen). It’s an ancient Gaelic word meaning ‘summer’s end.’ There are many ideas and legends surrounding the ancient customs of the time that it can be a bit difficult to sort myth from fact.
Here is some of what we know for sure:
- Dressing in costumes is one of these long Hallowe’en traditions. It is rooted in the thought that because the veil between this world and the next is thinnest at Samhain, mischievous or possibly vengeful spirits might find a way to come back to this plane and play tricks on, or curse those still living who had done wrong by the deceased. Dressing in costumes of some kind was originally intended to confuse those spirits, and ward off any of that mischief.
- Trick-or-treating is something of a spin-off of the old custom of ‘going a-souling.’ This was mostly done by the poor people, often children, who would ask for prayers for those in their family who had recently died. In return, they might receive milk, bread or perhaps wine, if it was a family going together. This custom came about sometime after Christianity took over the holiday of Samhain and turned it into Hallowe’en, aka ‘All Hallows’ Eve,’ likely to eradicate the Pagan practices normally associated with the festival.
- Jack-O-Lanterns are another old tradition, of course, but believe it or not, pumpkins were not the first vegetables to be used. Turnips were used instead at one point.
It could be said that there are quite a few decorations and colours that just about everyone associates with Halloween. Orange, black, yellow and purple are common colours, as is red, for those who know about the color being associated with the astrological sign of Scorpio, which falls between October 22nd and November 22nd.
Naturally, you’re likely to see ghosts, witches, cats, bats and all other manner of mysterious or strange creatures. Here are some curiosities about those types of decor:
- Ghosts are a common theme with Halloween decorations because of the veil being thin on October 31st.
- Witches, of course, are a usual sight for many reasons, and many witch decorations are designed in the shape of the old hag or crone/wise-woman aspect of the triple-goddess, but until the resurgence of Pagan practises that came about in the 1950s and later, along with certain TV shows like ‘Bewitched,’ most thought of witches in the form of the ‘old woman,’ and it was usually a negative association. These days, if you see witch-themed decor in the ‘old crone’ form, it’s often more comical than frightening.
- Cats and bats are, of course, just as typical at Halloween, mostly because both are nocturnal creatures, they were seen as mysterious for a very long time, and for some, a bit frightening and evil solely because of misinformation and outright lies perpetuated by fearful people in the past. Anymore, science has replaced much of the superstition, and cats–including black cats–are beloved by many people. Bats are now often thought of as fascinating, even if their appearance does seem a bit ‘freaky’ to some, and so both take their rightful place among Halloween-themed decor, which you can find in the zen products section of zenspiritual.com’s online store.
Halloween is a fun time of the year for many. And no matter how you celebrate it, be it in modern Pagan fashion with a ritual or ceremony for the day, or simply as a secular holiday for kids and kids-at-heart, or anywhere in between, it’s the perfect way to welcome the cold weather holidays that come afterward.