The University and a large portion of the Western world take part in celebrating Halloween or “All Hallow’s Eve” Thursday by hanging up spooky decorations and dressing in costume. This holiday, like many others, appears to be an amalgamation of several faith and cultural traditions.
Halloween falls on Oct 31 to make preparation for the Christian feast All Saints Day, or “Hallowmas” on Nov 1. In accordance with Christian tradition, it is a time of remembrance and respect for the dead, particularly Christian martyrs. It coincides with the ancient Celtic festival “Samhain,” which means November, celebrated by pagan Druids to mark an end of the harvest season. They believed that, on this day, the border between the physical and spiritual world would become blurred and the risen dead would cause illness and strife among the living.
This belief often led to a focus on death and the occult. It also brought forth the tradition of wearing costumes – the Druids believed that by mimicking the ghosts, they could appease or confuse them. The tradition of carving gourds or root vegetables has the same origins; the pagans believed jack-o-lanterns would frighten evil spirits. Some people also put offerings or “treats” out for the spirits, to avoid receiving “tricks” instead.
Trick-or-treating as practiced today may have begun as “souling” in Europe during the Middle Ages. On Hallowmas, poor beggars went door-to-door to request food in reparation for prayers for the dead on All Soul’s Day. However, the tradition did not appear consistently in the United States until the 1930s, at which time it was celebrated largely by children in costume asking for candy.
Some modern day Pagans, including Wiccans and Druids, celebrate the Halloween season by closely recreating the original Celtic feast. This sometimes includes attempts to communicate with the dead or predict the future, decorating an altar with autumn symbols (such as leaves or gourds), and sharing a meal with spiritual value (like consecrated wine and cake).
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