We are the only species that knows it is going to die and this knowledge causes us distress and one of the forms that we have of attacking our fears is turning them into an object of our laughs, a baby after his/her first scary situation is capable of enjoying with the repetition of the same one.
This inevitable situation arises the question that will lead us to try to be always in touch with our love ones waiting for their visit or, at least, their contact with us in some or other way.
Lost in time, the Halloween’s origin date goes back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year’s eve on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead ones that become blurred.
On the night of October 31st they used to celebrate Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead ones return to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For those people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. 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.
By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
On May 13th, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian’s martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints and martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13th to November 1st. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church would make November 2nd All Souls’ Day, a day to honour the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems there. Halloween was more commonly celebrated in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbours would share stories of the dead ones, telling each other’s fortunes, dancing and singing. Colonial Halloween festivals also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. Running after the first period of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans 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. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mould Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighbourly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centred holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centres into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between the 1920s and 1950s, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighbourhood children with small treats.
In Europe Halloween has come through movies, especially scary movies, and had changed the way that Latin people consider the death ones.
I remember when I was a child, we used to keep small candles ignited inside a glass of water during All Souls Eve, in order to remember all those who had passed aways and I used to be told that if you leave a piece of paper placed on a chair, you would see the track of the ones who used to sit down by next morning.
Throughout history, several questions about, ‘what happens to our soul, spirit or conscience when we die?’ have been answered by Religion and recently science has taken part in that matter investigating near-death experiences, even in Universitied with Academic Programmes as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) program at the University of Southampton.
In any case, we can still listen to the distant laughs of children and adolescents while they enjoy their treasures of Halloween in form of candies.
- The history of Halloween is from http://www.history.com/topics/halloween
- More abouth Near death experiences in:
Dr. Ramón Rizo Gómez
Doctor in Psychology
Research Associate & IRIANS’s Representative
for the Iberian Peninsula.
IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute