Orange pumpkins, black cats, skeletons, witches and ghosts, these are all symbols of Halloween. It has become one of our most popular holidays, spooky fun for all ages. Halloween is also one of the oldest holidays. It’s a long story, out of the mists of time. This is the story,with some help from History.com.
Halloween’s origins date back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celtic new year began on November 1, which is half way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. It marked the end of the warm and sunny growing season (last harvest and summer’s end) and the beginning of winter, a time of cold and dark.
The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. It was a scary and powerful time. The Celts believed that on this night, the spirits of the dead returned to earth.
Those spirits who walked the earth were out for mayhem. Offerings were left on doorsteps for them, to keep them from getting inside the houses. People dressed in costumes to walk among the spirits.
The Celtic priests–the Druids–built huge sacred bonfires. There were sacrifices of crops and animals to appease the spirits and divine the future.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, some Roman and Celtic traditions were combined (of course). The Romans observed Feralia, a day in late October when they commemorated the passing of the dead. They also had a day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is the apple–so plentiful this time of year.
By 1000 A.D., the Roman church incorporated Saints and Martyrs Day into All Souls Day,or all Hallows Day, and it was celebrated on November 1. This may have been an attempt by the church to incorporate pagan celebrations into a more church-sanctioned holiday. October 31st became All Hallows E’en (evening), or Halloween.
The midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes were more important than they are, today. The Farmers’ Almanac explains the cross-quarter days–Ground Hog Day, May Day, August 1 (Lammas), and November 1.
We don’t have to follow the Old Calendar to appreciate the power of this time of year. Leaves are falling from the trees. The wind is growing colder. It’s dark so early, now. Footsteps behind you, what’s that sound? A plastic bag flutters like a ghost. Cats disappear in the darkness.
The energy turns to hearth and home, warm soup and lighted windows. Diversions to pass the longer nights. Thoughts of the living, and the dead.
It’s the dark time of the year, the season of nocturnal things.
We, too, can become more sensitive to the turning of the year–from light to darkness, and darkness back to light, again.
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