Who can believe tomorrow is Halloween?
Today, millions of children will fidget all day in school, pretending to pay attention to their teachers and studies, but will instead be thinking about trick-or-treating and all things candy.
Most parents are too busy thinking about getting home from work early and getting ready for an evening of walking through the neighborhood with costumed-clad children than pondering the history of Halloween, but perhaps today they might be interested in reading about it.
Historians say that Halloween has its roots 2,000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, pronounced “sow-in.” The Celtic people lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France. The peoples’ New Year began on November 1 — a day marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of what was always a long, cold, dark winter.
The celebration included bonfires and people dressing up in costumes — they believed the dead returned on this night to cause mischief and that the “magic” of the night enabled their priests to correctly predict all sorts of things for the upcoming year.
By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic lands and were ruling them — as usually happens when cultures meld, holiday celebrations do as well. Feralia was a day in late October that Romans celebrated the passing of the dead. That combined with another Roman festival that celebrated Pomona, the goddess of trees and fruit. Remember when people used to bob for apples during Halloween/fall festivals? Well, the apple is the symbol for Pomona and bobbing for apples probably has its roots from this ancient festival.
Things continued to evolve as cultures combined and the population moved and spread out — of course the influence of the church was always instrumental. In 609 A.D., the church named November 1 “All Saints’ Day,” which celebrated those who are in heaven, and November 2, “All Soul’s Day,” which celebrated those who were deceased but hadn’t yet made it into heaven.
The All Saints’ Day festival was also called All-hallows, so the night before was known as All-hallows Eve, then later Halloween. Throughout history, the church was all about replacing pagan festivals with holidays that had more to do with the church — Halloween was no different.
As far as our country goes, the early New England colonists celebrated rather low key, telling ghost stories and celebrating fall. As more people came to the United States, especially by the second half of the 19th century, cultural traditions continued to combine and Halloween became a time when adults and children celebrated with parties.
So, where did the actual act of trick-or-treating come from? Historians think it comes from a tradition in England when poor people would beg for food, door to door, and were given “soul cakes” in exchange for their promise to pray for the “givers’” dead relatives. The church encouraged the practice and referred to it as “going-a-souling.” Eventually, children would go door-to-door and were given food and small sums of money. I remember as a child there were several homes in our neighborhood who gave out pennies instead of candy — those were not popular homes — we wanted candy, not pennies.
Our children always loved Halloween — we all have fond memories of dressing up, me included. I love looking at the photos of those years and our children grinning ear to ear in their almost always homemade costumes. I hope all of our readers have a fun and safe Halloween night tomorrow night. Remember to pace yourselves as far as your candy consumption goes! Happy Halloween!
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at email@example.com.