Our celebration of Halloween today is but a pale representation of its actual rich and multicultural history. It was once a celebration marking the end of the growing season, and a heralding of the coming winter months. It is told that this day, of all days in the year, is the one in which the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. It is the day that ghouls and ghosts can walk among the living. While costumes today are for entertainment and fun, they were once used to confuse the dead and keep the living safe on this supernatural night. Blended from several origins, including the Celts, Romans, and Catholic tradition, Halloween came to be it’s own special celebration. Today, however, it has become a nationally commercial holiday, supported by a consumer based economy.
Back in the old days…with the history of the Celts, Druid priests were believed to have the ability to commune with the dead. It was rumored that their powers were the most powerful on the last day of the year: Samhain (sow-en) according to the Celtic calendar. On this day, the Celtic people would extinguish their hearth fires and gather in front of a bonfire for the evening instead. A celebration of singing, dancing, and listening to stories would ensue. At the end of the evening, each family would take some of the bonfire home and relight it in their hearths in hopes of good fortune for their home and family in the coming year. If it did not light, misfortune or death would come to someone in the house that year. The celebration of Halloween does not come directly from this day, however, for credit can also be given to the practice of several other cultures.
For instance, in the New World, Halloween was largely disallowed. In Maryland, however, it was encouraged, and people would attend parties with singing and dancing and ghost stories. Children would dress in costumes and try to scare one another. The actual tradition of trick-or-treating from door to door, did not begin until the Irish immigrants brought it with them when they came fleeing from the Potato Famine.
In relation to Pagan tradtion, this night was determined to be the night that a young woman would find out her future husband. This would be done by looking into a mirror in a dark room or by peeling an apple and casting the peel over her shoulder. Many Christian churches, who believed such paganistic rituals would lead to witchcraft and Satanism, created “Hell Houses” (haunted houses to us today), which were meant to scare children and young adults away from ever tampering with such damning traditions.
As you can see, this now famous American holiday is due to the old practices of many cultures throughout the centuries. There is so much more to learn about the history of Halloween as well all the other holidays we celebrate with our friends and loved ones. The best part is that ALL of the learning can be done through the simply wonderful act of reading!
Tomorrow, Nov. 1, is the start of National Family Literacy Month. Take advantage of this time to spark a budding love of reading in your child. Read to them about interesting facts they don’t know, and let them read with you. Sylvan Dell Publishing has a whole slew of options that can help aid you in educating your little one on a parent-child basis. Check out our homepage, and from there you can read about every book we have to offer you and your child!