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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Halloween comes from the saying and/or Scottish 16th Century tradition of "All-Hallows-Even".  Yes, I found it as "even" or evening.  All Hallows Day is the next day on November 1st.  Known as All Saints Day in Western Christianity and was once a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church,  All Hallows Day is the solemn day following Halloween.  November 2nd, is also a rather solemn day known as All Soul's Day celebrated in the Catholic Church for those faithfully departed.  Halloween, October 31st, leads off these days as a bit of a celebration.  Is and was Halloween intended to be a big party day?

Now, I am big into understanding history, religion, and people.  Most of my curiosity and understanding of history and theology came from what I learned in Catholic high school.  I provide this disclosure so that you know the source of my learning and experience when I discuss pagan festivals or something more controversial (or perceived to be as such).  My education was as honest and true as it comes which may surprise people where the Catholic Church is concerned.  Facts and history demonstrate the evolution of society, including something as basic as a holiday or celebration such as Halloween.

The Celtic festival of Samuin (sow-an or sow-in) is historically given the credit of where Halloween comes from.  The word is derived from the Old Irish meaning "summer's end".  Celtic people lived mainly in the British Isles and the northern part of France.  They were most certainly pagans that included animal sacrifice as part of their Samuin celebration on October 31st.  Their new year started on November 1st.  Is that a coincidence that it matches some very important days for Christianity?

Now, it should come as no surprise that the Roman Empire had influence over the conversion of pagan believers to Christianity.  Many of the pagan festival days were converted to Christian holidays.  I look at this as a way of making a belief transition easier.  I'm not sure how easy it really was but the Roman Empire and the Church worked to retain and replace some of those pagan holidays with something equally palatable and more "Christian" like.

Many holidays, including Halloween, still pull tradition from those old Celtic Festivals.  Where do you think carving a pumpkin comes from?  Turnips were carved to honor soul's that had passed on.

The story is changed and more elaborate from the Christian stance. There is the legend of "Stingy Jack".  In Ireland, the story goes that Stingy Jack tricked the devil into becoming a coin and also climbing into an apple tree.  With the coin, Jack was able to buy a drink and the story goes on.  Jack tricked the devil again a year later (presumably on Halloween).  The deal that Jack made with the devil was one that prevented him from going to hell.  When Jack died, God did not want Jack in heaven because of his previous unsavory dealings with the devil.  As a result, Jack is stuck roaming the earth forever with a lit coal that God gave him to light his way in the dark. 

Over the years this story evolved to create "Jack O' Lanterns" to light Jack's way on Halloween.  I guess Jack's in purgatory walking the earth and on Halloween his ghostly figure needs light to see his path.

I must admit that the stories of Halloween, and there are many more, are so much more exciting than reality.  The use of our imaginations now and thousands of years ago make this tradition fun and exhilarating for all ages.

My own children look forward to decorating with "Jack" and pumpkins plus dressing up and collecting some candy just as I did as a child as did my own parents.  Imagine that, the children are really enticed by the sweets.

So, share your stories and traditions of "All-Hallows-Even"....Happy Halloween!

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