|from Buzzfeed creepy kid ghosts|
Halloween is actually a fairly modern take on an ancient celebration and ritual in the pagan/Celtic world that was called Samhain, pronounced Sah-win. Samhain was celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, generally October 30 to November 1st (dates were added after calendars came along). It was a time when the veils between the worlds were thinnest and the dead could cross over; it was a time for celebrating a successful harvest and making sacrifices to get through the winter and propitiate the gods for the next year. This was a dark and superstitious world where ritual and offerings to gods and goddesses were important to survival.
During these days giant bonfires were lit, in accordance with specific rituals. Feasts were laid out and the souls of dead family members were invited to take a place at the table. Additionally, offerings of food and drink were left outside to honor and ask favors of the spirits and fairies who could cross over the thinned veil between the worlds during Samhain.
People wore masks and animal skins and disguised themselves; ‘mumming’ and ‘guising’ to either imitate the spirits or hide from them. The poor offered to say prayers for the wealthy to keep the spirits at bay in exchange for ‘soul cakes’. In other instances sometimes disguised folk went door to door reciting verses in exchange for food. This is most likely the ancient origin of trick or treating.
To scare away spirits people carved scary faced lanterns from turnips, remember pumpkins are a fruit of the New World and were unknown in the ancient world of Europe. They put a hot coal or ember in the lanterns and carried them at night during Samhain. What joy to discover pumpkins, so much easier to carve than a turnip!
Pope Gregory II, knowing a good thing when he saw it, conscripted Samhain from the superstitious Celts and turned it into All Hallow’s Eve followed by All Saints Day. Hence, our modern Halloween, actually Hallow evening. This let the Catholic church use the festival to convert the Celts to Catholicism, especially the Irish, by using their own rituals and spirits to win them over.
Early America wanted no part of Halloween and it was not celebrated in the USA until the Irish potato famine of 1845 brought an enormous influx of the Irish to America as immigrants. At first, it was celebrated primarily in Irish enclaves but its popularity spread and charming Victorian illustrations can still be found. By the 1920s the celebrations were out of control. Many cities and towns clamped down and forbade the celebration because of the violence and viciousness it had taken on in adult hands.
World War II and sugar rationing stopped any kind of celebration in its tracks; and after WWII in the 1950s it was ready to be invented as the kid friendly holiday we know and love today. The holiday continues to grow in popularity as adults embrace their inner kids and enjoy today’s trend of costume parties, returning a lot of the holiday to the grown-ups where it started.
Where did all the things we associate with Halloween come from anyway?
The Celts believed the skeleton was the repository of the soul and honored it as such. They wanted to keep the dead from bothering the living and a lot of their rituals were geared to that end. Mexico has Day of the Dead to honor ancestors, and everyone loves spooky bones around Halloween.
Ghosts are a natural, the concept of roving spirits has traveled directly to the present. Who remembers wearing an old sheet with eye holes cut in it when your mom didn’t get your costume finished? In the 1950's little ghosts were the most common costume out there going door to door and hollering “Trick or Treat!” in the neighborhood.
Witches came out of the ancient tradition of wise women, crones who were herbalists, spiritual advisers and healers in the ancient world. The Catholic Church was not fond of women usurping their authority and cast them as purveyors of dark arts and called them evil witches, something America knows way too much about. Scary witches are still popular in costume and concept.
Black cats have had a bad rap for a very long time. They were regarded as familiars, the spiritual receptacles and advisers for witches and as such were considered very bad kitties, almost made extinct at one time.
Bats came straight out of history. Those giant all night bonfires threw a lot of light that attracted a lot of insects and all those bugs attracted a bunch of bats to eat them. Bats are night flyers, an automatic addition to the dark side.
Spiders show up in autumn, weaving their sticky webs to catch unsuspecting bugs and seemingly everywhere we turn, walking into a web is pretty awful so they got tossed into the arsenal too.
Vampires and werewolves are a more recent addition, added to the mix primarily through 19th century sensationalist literature. Frankenstein anyone?
Today, Halloween decorations from the turn of the century through the 1950s are highly sought after and collected. The early decorations were not geared to happy kiddies. Halloween parties were for grown- ups back then and the decorations were meant to be truly scary and unsettling.
Happy hunting for those cool decorations and old photos, and happy Halloween, or Secret Samhain!