Tuesday, October 17, 2017

5 Halloween History Facts

All Hallow’s Eve is upon us again, and in anticipation of our own Student Life/SCC Halloween party on October 31, we thought we’d share some interesting factoids about this historic holiday. Haven’t you wondered what this strange, costumed, door-to-door begging ritual is all about? Well, here are five facts about Halloween’s history sure to send shivers down your hard drive.

1. Halloween is Irish

Though Halloween derived its name from the Roman Catholic Church’s All Hallows Day (All Saints Day) in the Middle Ages, the holiday originated with the Celtic people of what we now call Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. As early as the 1st century BC, the Gaelic calendar denoted October 31 as Samhain, which marked the beginning of winter and the start of the new year.

For the Celts, November 1st introduced the “dark half” of the year. They also considered sunset the beginning of the day because they believed all things begin in darkness. Obviously, the ancient Celts were a cheerful bunch.

Halloween’s modern popularity in the U.S. also owes its origins to the Irish, thanks to the massive Irish immigration to America in the mid-1800s. The Irish Potato Famine drove them out, but they remembered to bring their witch hats and pumpkin spice lattes.

2. It’s Always Been about Dead Folks Coming Back to Visit

Samhain was thought to be a time when the veil between our reality and the spooky “Otherworld” of dead things was pretty easy to pass through. In particular, the Celts used the opportunity to touch base with relatives in the Great Beyond. These ghostly relations, the Celts knew from experience, were hungry, and they expected some generous hospitality before they would bother hanging out with their boring, live kinfolk. So the Samhain celebrants fixed up a dinner spread in the dining room to welcome Uncle Aiden and Grandma O’Connor back home. Some even had picnics in the cemetery.

Picnic in the cemetery! You can’t get much more “Halloween” than that!

3. There May Have Been Human Sacrifices

Being essentially a really creepy harvest festival, Samhain was the time to make nice with the pastoral deities who controlled the fate of next year’s crops. To appease these supernatural forces, sacrifices were made in the form of farm animals, burned crops, and even, historians believe, some of the neighbors.

If you’ve seen the film The Wicker Man, with its giant, wicker effigy being burned with a real-life, not-so-happy guy trapped inside, you have some idea of how the Samhain sacrifice might have gone down. Thankfully, the Irish left this part of the festivities behind when they came to America.

4. Many Halloween Party Games Were Meant to Tell the Future

With the doorway to the supernatural realm left wide open, all manner of otherworldly activity swarmed about the Celtic people on Samhain. This provided the perfect opportunity to find out what the future held. Would they become rich? Would the cattle get smallpox? Would Enya’s brother ever get married or would he live in their sheep barn forever?

Divination rituals involving nuts, apples, and eggs were used to provide clues to these puzzles. The obvious surviving Halloween ritual is apple bobbing, but peering into crystal balls, pouring lead into water, and mirror gazing also had their place in Samhain gatherings. Let’s hope the signs were good for Enya’s brother.

5. Ghoul and Goblin Costumes were Meant to Fake Out Real Ghouls and Goblins

While trick or treat costumes are thought to have always been part of Samhain shenanigans, the practice is specifically traced to France in the 14th and 15th centuries. By this time, the infamous Black Death had introduced the popular image of the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death), an image often painted on cemetery walls, depicting the personification of Death leading the newly deceased into a fresh tomb. Those dressing up as ghouls and devils on All Saints Day believed Death would avoid their village if he thought the job of escorting plague victims was already covered.

“We got this, Death! See you round the graveyard!”

Weirdly, this also evolved into the practice of mumming or guising, in which the ghostly-clad locals would sing and recite verses door to door, hoping to be rewarded with food. Those houses which provided the goodies were assured good fortune for the following year. Those who didn’t, well…they were just lucky toilet paper hadn’t been invented yet.

Don’t forget to join us for our Halloween party in the Library Lobby on October 31st from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm. It won’t be a Samhain celebration (thankfully), but it will feature a costume contest, pizza for sale, and an intriguing and challenging Library Murder Mystery Game. Hope to see you there!

Works Cited