Celtic Autumn – The Origins of Halloween

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Samhain (pronounced Sow-in): The origin of Halloween can be traced to this ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago (states the Word Book Encyclopedia). “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living.”

It hasn’t changed all that much since then. The dead still walk among us that night, joined now by Zombies, Witches, Warlocks, Werewolves, Vampires, Black Cats and various other “haunts.”

Halloween night has become very crowded indeed.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Evening.” Also know as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve. Whatever you call it, it’s pretty scary. It used to scarier still, but in the nineteen fifties, it became sort of  “family friendly.” Now it is the second most popular holiday of the year, second only to Christmas. Americans spend about six BILLION dollars buying Halloween stuff.

And that doesn’t even include the candy.

According to many scholars, Halloween is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals. In many parts of the world, religious observances of Halloween include attending Church services and lighting candles on the graves and tombstones of the dead.

The word Halloween dates to about 1745, and is of Christian origin. It is a Scottish term. Samhain is old Irish and means “The end of summer.” Indeed. Gaelic Halloween was on November the first, rather than the last day of October. I’m not exactly sure which day I prefer. Both seem somehow very apropos, either night seemingly a good one to “Rattle dem dry bones.”

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At Samhain, places were set at the dinner table for the dead. It was believed that the departed would re-visit their homes on that night, and apparently be hungry when they got there. In 19th century Ireland, candles were lit, and prayers formally said for the souls of the deceased.

In modern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Mann, and Wales, the festival includes Mumming and Guising. The adult mummers go door to door, reciting verses and singing songs in exchange for food. Guising is closest to our own tradition, with children making the rounds in disguise, searching for food or coins. The food usually consists of apples or nuts, with very little sugar.

“Trick or treat is largely America – demanding treats with menace. But then, that’s more or less the American way. One improvement we did make however, was to center the tradition largely around candy, and lots and lots of it. Chocolate is preferred.

No matter how it started, or where it came from, children the world over love it. I know that some of my very best memories of my kid-hood involve trick or treating around the neighborhood with my dad. The nights were cold and crisp. The scent of apples and cider were in the air. Dad was always by my side to ensure my safety. He was as constant as the sun rising in the morning.

Years later, when I was grown and dad was old, I would usually visit on Halloween night. I would bring about a half ton of candy, and dad would have more. We always bought a whole lot more than we knew we would distribute to the kids. But that was exactly the point. We got to eat the leftovers, as we watched an evening marathon of horror movies on the television. Old black and white monster movies were preferred.

Memories don’t get much better than that.

Dad has gone on himself to the great beyond now. I celebrate his life and his passing. And I will do it in typical (and traditional) Halloween style. As in light a candle, carve a pumpkin, eat a ton of candy, set a place for him at the dinner table, just in case he wants to drop in and is hungry when he gets there.

And just generally scare the crap out of myself and the grandkids as we watch an evenings marathon of old black and white horror flicks.

Because Halloween is, and always will be, the most wonderful (and scariest) night of the year.

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful (and incredibly frightening) Halloween night.

We will meet again in a few days, with an excerpt from my upcoming book in The Watchmaker series, THE RECKONING.

Until then. Happy Halloween .  .  . and Happy Nightmares.

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