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Author Topic: A little history behind Halloween  (Read 3354 times)

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Crystal Dragon

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A little history behind Halloween
« on: October 31, 2010, 03:57:55 PM »

[Portions of this have been excerpted from previous articles/posts I've written]

The origins of Halloween as we know it today are ironically, mostly Christian.  I find this to be hysterically funny since some of the more fundamentalist Christians are the most vocal against this (now secular) holiday.

Pagans know all about Samhain (pronounced sow-an) as a harvest festival marking the end of the Celtic year.  In the first century, after the Romans invaded the Celtic lands, some of their traditions began to creep into the yearly celebration.  The Romans would pour milk on the graves of their ancestors and leave little cakes to keep them from rising and haunting their relatives during Feralia.   And as Pagans we know that the veil between our world and those surrounding us (some refer to it as the spirit world, though I think there are many) is thinner at this time of year, further giving rise to mystery surrounding ghosts and such.  But the celebration of Samhain has very little to do with Halloween.

Historians have traced the beginnings of Halloween back to about 800 AD but prior to that, around 600 AD, the Catholic Church co-opted Lemuria, a Pagan holiday honoring the dead celebrated May 13th … the original All Saints Day.  In the ninth century, the Church moved All Saints Day to November 1st in an attempt to co-opt Samhain as well as Feralia (celebrated in late October).  About 200 years later, the Church added All Souls Day on November 2nd to further the dilution of the Pagan and Roman holidays.  The three days, Samhain, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day began to be known as Hallowmas with Samhain now being called All Hallows Evening … this eventually was shortened to Hallows Even, then Halloween.

The practice of trick-or-treat may have begun with youths going door to door offering to pray for the souls of the occupants’ passed relatives in exchange for small cakes.  The Church told its followers that enough prayers needed to be offered up to guarantee a passed soul’s passage into Heaven or they might get stuck in Purgatory.  The Church encouraged the passing out of “soul cakes” to the poor as a way of discouraging the leaving of cakes and wine for roaming spirits who might be traveling the roads on Samhain.

Bobbing for apples may be linked to the ancient Roman festival honoring Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees and her symbol is the apple.  The association of bats with Halloween may come from the bonfires the ancient Celts lit for their Samhain festival … insects are drawn to the heat and light of a fire and bats may have been attracted as well to feed on the insects.  And of course, witches and cats have a long history of being feared not just on Halloween.

The tradition of the Jack O’Lantern has roots in an old Irish myth about a man called “Stingy Jack” who is said to have tricked the Devil out of claiming his soul when he died and has walked the Earth ever since his death with a hot coal inside a turnip used as a lantern to light his way.  Irish folk used to carve faces into turnips and light them from within using candles to make their own lanterns, but with a scary face to scare off “Stingy Jack” if he came around.  Immigrants to the US found that pumpkins made a better “canvas” for these carvings than turnips did.
 
By the early 1900’s Halloween was a completely secular holiday focused around the community, games, food, and costumes and eventually morphed into the holiday we all know and love today.  It’s definitely one of my favorite holidays, topped only by Yule/Christmas. :D

© 2010-2014
« Last Edit: September 09, 2014, 03:47:58 AM by Crystal Dragon »
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dragonspring

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2010, 05:03:11 PM »

Interesting stuff CD.  Thanks for sharing! :D
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Crystal Dragon

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2010, 06:13:49 PM »

I could have written much more, but wanted to keep it short.  I usually stay miles away from the History Channel, but couldn't pass up their show today on the origins of Halloween.  That got me started thinking about all this. :D
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earthmuffin

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2010, 11:16:57 PM »

Interesting, CD. Thanks for posting. I had heard of the turnip jack-o-lanterns before.
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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2010, 01:42:03 PM »

Next year, I am going to attempt the turnip lantern. It would fit on my altar a lot easier!
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earthmuffin

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2010, 07:40:33 PM »

I wonder how difficult that will be as they are solid. We once carved the decorative gourds instead of pumpkins. They were pretty hard on the outside compared to a pumpkin but carved OK and were a fun alternative.
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Eternal Seeker

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2010, 09:00:10 AM »


I've always found the turnip story hard to believe for that very reason, Earthmuffin. Also, turnips aren't very big compared to pumpkins- how could you fit a candle in it? One version of the Jack story I heard said that he carried a coal from Hell in the turnip as his only light, and that was why he could never find his way back- the light of Hell could not shine on hallowed ground. That makes sense as far as the story goes; the turnip to protect his hand from the coal. But I don't see how it would work in real life.

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earthmuffin

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2010, 10:32:35 AM »

Maybe it wasn't a real jack-o-lantern, ES, but more like a candle holder? I could see that-- it would be far easier to carve out a space for the candle and to use the turnip as a holder to protect your hand from dripping wax and the flame.
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Ghost Wolf

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2010, 12:48:19 PM »

Back in the old days, beeswax candles were for the rich. Most likely they would have had tallow in them with a wick.
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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2010, 01:02:31 PM »

If you Google "turnip lantern" there are some images, so evidently they can be hollowed out...?
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Eternal Seeker

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2010, 01:46:34 PM »


Oh, I'm sure they *CAN* be hollowed out- somebody with the requisite skill and patience could hollow out a chestnut to use as a Jack O' Lantern... but it would be a pain in the butt. They didn't have pumpkins in Europe, but they did have gourds and other squashes that would be easier for someone of my limited coordination to carve, is all I'm saying. Why on Earth use a turnip?

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Crystal Dragon

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2010, 05:58:20 PM »


Why on Earth use a turnip?


Because no one wants to eat them?  :whistle:
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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2010, 07:23:03 PM »

 :rotflmao:
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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2010, 07:52:25 PM »


If that were the case, they'd be made of Velveta!

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Crystal Dragon

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2010, 10:39:05 PM »

 :rotflmao:  I'm with you on that! :D
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Ghost Wolf

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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2010, 01:07:14 AM »


Why on Earth use a turnip?


Because no one wants to eat them?  :whistle:

I like turnips, and turnip greens.
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Re: A little history behind Halloween
« Reply #16 on: November 03, 2010, 07:01:28 AM »


If that were the case, they'd be made of Velveta!

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Naw; Velveta melts.....
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