Happy Halloween!

hanunted houseHere’s a haunted house my daughter created for today (windows and doors open up to reveal scary things).

A few posts ago I talked about the fall’s “new year” feeling. I mentioned the Jewish New Year being celebrated in the fall, but I forgot about the Celtic New Year, Samhain (pronounced more like s-aun, I think). The Celts of pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland had a circular view of life, and around October 31 they celebrated the end of summer and harvest at the same time as they looked forward to the new life and light that would emerge out of the death and darkness of winter. Samhain was considered a time when the boundary between the living world and the otherworld was thinest, when the dead could return and warm themselves at the hearth fires of the living and some of the living (such as poets) could enter the otherworld at certain special locations.

Samhain was Christianized into All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day on November 1, and Oct 31 became All Hallows Even (Halloween). People dressed in costumes to either scare away evil spirits or blend in with the dead who may have returned for a visit. Bonfires (bone-fires, on which bones of cattle slaughtered for the winter were thrown) were lit to fend off evil, unite the community and remind of the light to return in the spring, divination games were played, and turnips (later, pumpkins) were carved with scary faces to scare away evil spirits or possibly to symbolize skulls of the dead.

It’s hard to know exactly what the original meanings were behind the different symbols and customs now associated with today’s candy-eating, costume-wearing celebration, jack-o-lanternbut it sounds like it was not only a sacred or more deeply meaningful time for the ancient Celts, but it was also fun even then.

(Jack-o-lantern quilt made by my mother-in-law)


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5 Responses to “Happy Halloween!”

  1. J-P Antonio Says:

    Hi. I just finished reading some things about Halowe’en with some of my students. I think pumpkins might have come later because they are a New World crop. There was also a statement about how the hearth fires were put out in homes on October 31st and then re-lit by sacred fires made by the druids for another year of warmth and light. It’s remarkable that elements of such old ceremonies continue to this day, albeit in a watered down version. I guess while we continue to experience the changing of the seasons, the harvest of crops and the apparent death of nature as leaves fall from the trees and plants and animals hibernate, we can’t help to be moved by the same themes and images as the ancients were. Happy Hallowe’en! BOO!!

  2. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    Before pumpkins became popular and easily available over here, we used to carve turnips.

  3. Jacqueline Pearce Says:

    I’d read somewhere that turnips were used before pumpkins — carved and sometimes with a candle placed inside. I’m not sure exactly what size these turnips would have been.

    I wonder if the old customs would have retained more connection to their meaning if people hadn’t moved to cities, immigrated to other countries, and generally become disconnected from the land and the cycles of agriculture and nature. Is this disconnection one of the reasons so many people today are searching for some sense of meaning (and perhaps trying unsuccessfully to find it –or fill the void– through material consumption)?

  4. Rochelle Says:

    Here’s an interesting note. We received an invitation to a home party on December 1. The host couple in years past (when looking for an excuse to a party, really) hold a New (Church) Year’s Eve Party. Because the liturgical year starts on the first Sunday of Advent (Dec. 2 this year) that makes the night before New Year’s Eve (for the church).
    Of course we plan to go and look forward to what is in store for the evening’s entertainment. There will be games, activities, eats and fun.
    What a fun start to begin the month of December!

  5. Rochelle Says:

    My previous comment really didn’t relate to Halloween. I was bringing it up more for customs that people have.
    However I do want to comment on the photo of the lovely artistic and colourful pumpkin quilt. It’s wonderful to see quilts telling stories.

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