Written by: David Robertson
Horror freaks should get a kick out of this informative list of 10 cool facts about Hallowen
- Samhain. Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic holiday Samhain. Samhain, November first, celebrated the Celtic New Year and the transition from summer to winter. It is the time between the light and the dark, a time when the souls of the dead make their journey to the other world. Festivities start at sundown on October 31st, the night before Samhain.
- The Living and The Dead. During this time of transition and change, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is very thin. All sorts of creatures may show up in our world including ghosts, demons, and goblins. Samhain is a time to honor deceased ancestors, but also to protect oneself from the more malevolent spirits which may be roaming about.
- Two thousand years ago, people originally wore scary masks to confuse the bad spirits. If they thought you were one of them, the spirits and other suspect creatures would leave you alone. In early Halloween traditions, people still usually dressed as ghosts or other evil creatures.
- Long before Halloween was a thing, guising was the tradition of children dressing in costumes and visiting neighbors’ houses in exchange for cakes, fruit, or money. Some say immigrants from Britain brought this tradition to America, where it eventually turned into trick-or-treating.
- Bonfires were a big part of Samhain. Portions of crops or animal bones were burned as offerings to the Gods. It was also said that the fire helped spirits get to the afterworld. Psychologically, fire was also protection against the darkness and the frightening spirits it might hold. Today we just use candles, or leave the lights on.
- Samhain, and later Halloween, always had an element of feeding those less fortunate. During Samhain, people left out food for their spectral ancestors. It was generally understood that the poorer people of a town often took the food, out of necessity. In the many decades between Samhain and Halloween, there was a tradition called souling (below) where the poor were given small cakes. During Halloween, people go house to house and are given food or coins. In some states, Halloween is also known as Beggar’s Night.
- When Christianity came to the Celtic areas, the church decided to convert Samhain from a pagan or druidic festivity to a more Christian one. Samhain was replaced with All Souls Day (November 2) and All Hallows Day (November 1). The evening before All Hallows Day was, of course, All Hallows Eve which was later shortened to Halloween. On All Souls Day, children and the poor would go door to door, promising to pray for the soul of a homeowner’s deceased relative in exchange for a small cake (known as a soul cake). Each cake eaten would represent a soul released from purgatory. This may have been another tradition that became trick or treating.
- Bobbing For Apples. When the Romans conquered parts of the Celtic world, they brought with them apple trees and the goddess of fruit trees, Pomona. The Roman holiday, Pomona’s Day of Honoring, got mixed into Samhain. Early on, the Celts noticed that the seeds of a sliced apple form a sort of pentagram shape. They believed that the pentagram was a symbol of fertility and a way of predicting marriages. This led to the game “bobbing for apples” where unmarried people tried to bite into floating apples. The first person to succeed would be the next married.
- In ancient times, warriors put skulls on poles to intimidate their enemies and to keep evil spirits away. In the days of Samhain, people put candles in hollowed out gourds and placed them outside. These lanterns would light a path to guide the dead on their journey. They would also keep malevolent spirits away. The Irish and Scottish people later made lanterns by carving scary faces on potatoes or turnips. They would then place these lanterns in windows and doorways to ward off evil spirits. In England, they used large beets. When immigrants from the British Isles moved to America, they found that carved pumpkins made much better lanterns.The tradition of carved pumpkins with candles inside continues today.
- Trick or Treat. In parts of Mexico, this practice is called calaverita (Spanish for “little skull”), and instead of “trick or treat”, the children ask ¿me da mi calaverita? (“can you give me my little skull?”); where a calaverita is a small skull made of sugar or chocolate.