Halloween Essay, Research Paper
Black cats, goblins, witches flying on broom sticks, jack-o-lanterns, and scary costumes are all remnants of a holiday known as Halloween. As child you may recall Halloween as this ?genuinely playful night that lit up their [your] imagination like no other holiday?. You probably could describe your very first Halloween costume, and the rushing emotions of terror and excitement as you approached your first house. Only later in your years of growing up, is it discovered that Halloween is no longer a childlike holiday that is filled with imagination, but an event that has undergone a complete metamorphism. Looking out a Halloween through the eyes of an adult there is no longer cute little costumes, and a desire for candy, but a night that has commercialized into parties and inappropriate pranks. This complete evolution of Halloween didn?t just start in the 21st century but in fact, ?has evolved from generation to generation.? Hence, the blending of ethnic, religious, and occult heritages has shaped the Halloween that we know today. Therefore, for a proper understanding of the modern American celebration on October 31, we must look at the earlier celebrations that have come together to form today’s Halloween.
Halloween origins date back to the second century B.C. where the Celtic order called the Druids, in their celebration on the eve of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain ?performed mystical ceremonies in honor of the great sun god and the lord of the dead?. (968 American Days.) The Samhain festival wasn?t just a harvest festival that marked the end of summer and harvest, but also the beginning of the dark, cold winter. It could be stated that this Samhain festival was the most sacred and important ritual to the Celtics .The Celts truly believed that the night before the new year the dead rose and that ancestral ghosts and demons were set free to linger on earth to cause trouble and damage their crops. In addition to causing trouble the Celts believed that the presence of the ghosts and ancestral spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests to make predictions about the future, seeing as how the spirits were believed to hold the secrets of the afterlife and future. This belief played an important role in the lives of the Celtics because they were entirely dependent on the natural world and the prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter (1-3 Halloween).
Every year on the Samhain during the darkest hour the ?Samhain Vigil? was held. This ceremony was a very scared ritual in that the Celtics believed that the Lord of the Dead was going come and resentence all the lost souls. This sentencing could land the sinning souls up to 12 months of afterlife in the shape of an animal and the good souls were sentenced to 12 months of death, however they could take on the shape of a human being (4, Halloween). In observance to this ?vigil? Druids built huge bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities to honor the sun gods and scare away any evil spirits that may still be prowling around. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter. (Sound familiar)
Modern Halloween also entails slight influences from the Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of orchards and harvest. This reflection of the Roman festival in modern Halloween is due to the fact that by the first century A.D., Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory and in the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain, and celebrated on November 1 (American days 968).
The first to combine with the Celtic traditions was the Ponoma festival. The festival consisted of a feast containing apples (which was seen as a symbol of love and fertility) nuts, grapes and other fruits. The symbol of Pomona and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explained the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween. Consequently, the Celtic and Roman cultures created what one may describe as ?Halloween in its ancient form?, where it was a ?night devoted to the dead and yet a night for divination and romance as well? (8). However, at the end of the century an even greater blending of traditions occurred. These pagan traditions were faced with a new religion, Christianity (Halloween 8).
Christianity, a religion known to denounce paganism slowly began to spread across the Roman Empire from the first to the fourth century. During the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV was the first to designate May 13 to All Saints’ Day, a preserved day to honor the saints and martyrs (Halloween 8). However, in the eighth century Pope Gregory the III re-established this festival on November 1, which was the result of the church trying to incorporate the existing pagan rites into their new Christian ones. For example, during this festival the clergy would enforce the members to remember the dead with prayers instead of sacrifices and instead of trying to please gods with wine, the clergy gave instructions on how to bake soul cake to offer in blessings instead.
The irony of this whole situation with the church trying to power over the ?ancient Halloween? is that instead of overpowering it and wiping out the pagan practices, it help develop it into the Halloween as we know it today. The church gave the holiday its name. During the medieval time All Saints day was known as All Hallows which would make the night before that All Hallows Eve that later transcended into Hallowe?en, and now Halloween. It also endorsed the remembrance of the dead and added acceptability to the old Celtic masquerades, bonfires, and the custom of visiting house to house??a practice that eventually evolved into America?s most popular contemporary Halloween custom: trick or treat? (12).
Nonetheless, Halloween as a holiday came rather late to the United States. As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them, but because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there. Therefore, most of the new colonists didn?t celebrate All Saints Day or Halloween (Days 970). In spite of this there has been some evidence that New World English did participate with features of Halloween, such as apple ducking, and apple snatching. It is from this point on, that the History of Halloween began to mesh with the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, and American Indians, to lead a distinctly different Halloween into emergence.
During the pioneer days, there were different practices of Halloween that had spread among the lands of America. Some Americans celebrated Halloween with festivities as ?corn-popping parties, taffy pulls, hayrides, and divination games?, while others neglected to partake in the pagan rituals. Nevertheless it wasn?t until the 1840?s that Halloween came to America (165 Holiday Symbols). The popularization of the celebration of Halloween nationally was due to the new immigrants that flooded American, many of which were fleeing Ireland?s potato famine of 1846(970 days). The transplant of old traditions into a new place revitalized these old traditions with ?perhaps even more enthusiasm than was once evident in the Old World.?(970) The Americans took the Irish and English traditions, and began to dress up in costumes and go house- to -house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition, as well as the carving of the pumpkins, pranks, jokes and the tradition of the jack-o-lantern. This Irish transformation of Halloween is what the modern Americans associate with Halloween, as we know it today.
Looking at the 20th century the contemporary ideals of Halloween primarily come from the Irish. The trick or treating is a little harder to pin point just on the Irish, but a lot of the pranks, practical jokes are attributable to the Irish. According to tradition the Irish brought with them these fairy people who were very mischievous on Halloween. This influence soon spread great enthusiasm to US communities during the 19th century. Practical jokes such as street number being changed, animals hidden, and water faucets left opened were welcomed as well as not so welcomed. Thus, the course of the 20th century Americans have become less tolerant of these pranks, which have gone outside the realms of just fun and games. These games and pranks are what in the late 20th century and early 21st century Americans think of Halloween. And looking into the late 20th century and the early 21st century the commercialization, parties, and satanic accusations have effectively erased the deep Celtic and Irish roots of the true Halloween. This fact was revealed to me when I interviewed two young adults about Halloween. I believe by diving into these two interviewees life I have unlocked two distinct positions on Halloween, both that stem from the ancient beliefs and customs of Halloween.
My first interviewee, Butch*, was very confident with her positions on Halloween. At first she was a little bit hesitant, but finally opened up. To my dismay she had never participated in any Halloween event. ?As a child I didn?t participate in evil warfare, I was always taught that Halloween represented evil.? Now, this statement is quite typical with such religious sects, such as Protestants. Which was evident back in United States History. The strict Protestant beliefs didn?t except the idea of spirit warfare and often dismissed it. However, further into the interview I found it kind of unusual because Butch proceeded to state that ?although, my parents didn?t allow us to participate in Halloween activities, our church held a ?Harvest Festival? where the kids could come and play games and eat tons of candy.? These ideals and concepts are almost to identical to what the Catholic Church had done centuries before. The ideals of Halloween were labeled evil, however, to compromise the evilness of Halloween, the church declared All Saint?s to kind of counter act the Samhain Festival. It?s evident that Butch?s perception is very religious, just as it was to the Celtics, but contrary to the Celtics Butch?s religion doesn?t belief in evil spirits.
My second interviewee Bobby, was the complete opposite, quite frankly, he didn?t even really care about Halloween. ?When I was a kid I dressed up and went on a trick- or- treating frenzy. My main objective was to get more candy then my sister. It was all fun and games.? Bobby?s view of Halloween is very contemporary. It has taken on more of the Irish and the typical American concepts of Halloween. Although, like most of the populace in the States, Bobby agreed ?Halloween is way too done up, nowadays. All it is, is an excuse for teenagers to party and get drunk, and big businesses dwell on the commercialization of the modern Halloween.? Here it?s evident that the true meaning and evolution of Halloween has been erased through time, The game playing and trick-or-treating has been a common trend throughout the history of Halloween that has yet to die out. Nonetheless, Butch and Bobby may have practice Halloween differently, each of their practices were present in past traditions, however, their explanation of the origins of Halloween varies drastically.
My initial observation going into this assignment was that most Americans don?t really care about the origins of Halloween, and there would always be someone who doesn?t care. Bobby was one of those who didn?t know and didn?t care. Butch, on the other hand knew the exact story behind Halloween, which really amazed me. For not participating and to know the history of a Holiday was very interesting. What I did notice was that there was this common trend of not believing in ghost, but in witches. Both of my interviewers didn?t believe in ghost but they believed in witches. Bobby and Butch both state, ?Absolutely there are witches.? There explanations as to why are way different, but the main concept is there. There are always people out there that seem to hold a supernatural aura and can do unusual things As Bobby stated, ? The mind is more powerful than you think.? Insinuating that witches are very mindful and can control extraordinary things. I found this somewhat perturbing. I guess the only conclusion I can come up with is that a witch is an actual person, and ghost have this mystical and make believe character that has lost it?s significance over time
In spite of the fact that, the ghost/ spirits were a main aspect of the Samhain and traditional festival it?s evident that this trend has died out, unlike trick or treating, witches, and jack-o-lanterns. The European traditions have faded off with the exception of costume dressing, and glimpses of trick-o-treating, but the presence of the Irish influence in our modern Halloween is very dominant. The playful fun and games aura is still carried out today, and even though. Halloween may seem like a joyous Holiday that Americans developed for a commercial business, it?s evident here Halloween can tell the history of many Americans, just as America can tell the history of Halloween.