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    Some facts about «Halloween»,
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    Legends and History of Halloween


    Halloween is one of the oldest holidays with origins going back thousands of years. The holiday we know as Halloween has had many influences from many cultures over the centuries. From the Roman's Pomona Day, to the Celtic festival of Samhain, to the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days. Hundreds of years ago in what is now Great Britain and Northern France, lived the Celts. The Celts worshipped nature and had many gods, with the sun god as their favorite. It was the Sun God who commanded their work and their rest times, and who made the earth beautiful and the crops grow. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st. It was celebrated every year with a festival and marked the end of the "season of the sun" and the beginning of "the season of darkness and cold." The Celts believed, that during the winter, the sun god was taken prisoner by Samhain, the Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness.
     
    On the eve before their new year (October 31), it was believed that Samhain called together all the dead people. The dead would take different forms, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals. The most evil taking the form of cats.
     
    On October 31st after the crops were all harvested and stored for the long winter the cooking fires in the homes would be
    extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest (oak trees were considered sacred). The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the the fires, the season of the sun passed and the season of darkness would begin.
     
    When the morning arrived the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires would keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits. The November 1st festival was named after Samhain and honored both the sun god and Samhain. The festival would last for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals. This festival would become the first Halloween.
    During the first century the Romans invaded Britain. They brought with them many of their festivals and customs. One of these was the festival know as Pomona Day, named for their goddess of fruits and gardens. It was also celebrated around the 1st of November. After hundreds of years of Roman rule the customs of the Celtic's Samhain festival and the Roman Pomona Day
    mixed becoming 1 major fall holiday.
    The next influence came with the spread of the new Christian religion throughout Europe and Britain. In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church would make November 1st a church holiday to honor all the saints. This day was called All Saint's Day, or Hallowmas, or All Hallows. Years later the Church would make November 2nd a holy day. It was called All Souls
    Day and was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.
    But the spread of Christianity did not make people forget their early customs. On the eve of All Hallows, Oct. 31, people continued to celebrate the festival of Samhain and Pomona Day. Over the years the customs from all these holidays mixed. October 31st became known as All Hallow Even, eventually All Hallow's Eve, Hallowe'en, and then - Halloween.
    The Halloween we celebrate today includes all of these influences, Pomona Day's apples, nuts, and harvest, the Festival of Sanhain's black cats, magic, evil spirits and death, and the ghosts, skeletons and skulls from All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day.

    Ancient Origins of Halloween

    Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

    To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

    By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

    On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

    In the United States

    Halloween was not a popular observance in early United States history, as most of the early settlers were Protestant. At the time, Halloween was considered mostly a Catholic, Episcopalian, and Pagan holiday, and therefore largely ignored. In the southern colonies, such as Virginia and Maryland, there were some Halloween customs observed. The first common events were called "play parties". These parties got neighborhoods together to celebrate the harvest, dance, sing, tell stories of the dead, tell fortunes, and have pageants for children in costume. By the mid 1800's, immigration increased, and many Irish immigrants, mostly Catholics fleeing the potato famine, brought many Halloween traditions with them. Jack o'lanterns found a new face, the pumpkin, which was very plentiful in the New World. Catholics and Episcopalians sought to preserve their traditions, so started an effort in the late 1800's to popularize and make their holidays known to the general population. By campaigning to put these holidays (Halloween and All Saints Day) on public calendars, magazines and newspapers started to publicize these holidays, and soon became popular in the United States more as a community and family holiday, rather than one of great religious and supernatural importance.

    By the mid twentieth century, Halloween turned into a secular holiday, community centered with parties city-wide, parades, and great costumes. Halloween is mostly aimed to children, but young and old enjoy this holiday, with events and parties for both children and adults. Starting in 1950, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) started a campaign for children to collect money at Halloween for underprivileged children around the world. Halloween is the United States' second largest commercial holiday, spending approximately $6.9 billion a year.

    In Other Countries

    Mexico, Latin America, and Spain observe All Saints Day and All Souls Day with a three day celebration starting on the evening of October 31, through November 2. In most areas of Mexico, November 1 is set aside to honour dead children, and November 2 to honour those who died as adults. Starting in mid October, shops are filled with decorations, flowers, toys made like skeletons and other macabre shapes, sweets, pastries, and candies shaped like bones, coffins, and dead bodies in preparation for the festivities. Called "Day of the Dead", the spirits of relatives are supposed to visit their families homes. An area of the home is cleared away, and an altar is erected decorated with flowers, photographs of the deceased, candies and pastries shaped like skulls inscribed with their name, candles, and a selection of the deceased's favorite foods and drinks. Even after dinner cigarettes and liquors are provided for the dear departed's after dinner enjoyment. Incense is burning to help the spirits find their way home.

    In preparation for November 2, the graves of the deceased are cleaned, painted, and decorated for the occasion. Families gather November 2 for a festive family reunion. Food, drinks, and tequila are brought along, along with sometimes even a mariachi band. In some areas, fireworks announce an open-air mass, the most solemn time of the Day of the Dead. Many customs vary depending on the particular city, town, or culture, but all over Mexico, Latin American, and Spain, the Day of the Dead is considered a celebration of their departed family.

    Eastern Europe's celebration of All Saints Day are usually spent by praying most of the day, praying to the Saints and thanking God. Often, they visit their departed family members at the cemeteries. Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Poland observe All Saints Day as a public holiday, but unlike Mexico and the United States, this day is a somber day of remembrance and reflection. France, Italy, and Germany are celebrating Halloween, American style, as does Canada. Ireland celebrates American style, but a common town bonfire, a remnant of Celtic days is still lit. England still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 with bonfires, burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, and fireworks.

    Symbols of Halloween

     

    Witches

    Witches have long been a source of fascination for many. Witches are thought to be tellers of fortune and to cast spells, both good and bad. This frightened many because it was believed that supernatural powers were strongest on Halloween night. The implication of being a witch has greatly changed throughout the centuries. Thoughts of old wrinkled green skinned hags with grey stringy hair and a nose wart are what many think of. Others think of witchcraft and the negative propaganda associated with it. A more realistic view of the modern witch is a socially conscience individual who practices Wicca and is proud to be considered a Pagan. In the Wiccan religion, the word witch means wise one.

    Ghosts and Skeletons

    Ghosts are universal symbols for the departed. Skeletons and bones are symbols of death and the shortness of life. Samhain is the festival of the dead, so it seems fitting that ghosts and skeletons would be used. It was thought that on this night of the year, the dead roamed the earth freely in their passage to the hereafter.

    Pumpkins or Jack-O-Lanterns

    Traditionally on Halloween, jack-o-lanterns are placed on porches and in windows, in hopes that Jack, the nasty Irishman that the lantern is named for (see Jack-O-Lantern history page), would take the light if needed instead of bothering anyone. The pumpkin jack-o-lantern has been an essential part of Halloween celebrations since the Victorian days and today is a universal symbol of Halloween.

    Black Cats

    Black cats have long been considered to be spiritual animals. Superstitions link them to witches, being able to sense good and evil spirits, even being incarnations of people themselves. Given the old beliefs that ghosts could return to earth and supernatural powers were strongest on the night of Halloween, black cats naturally became associated with this holiday.

    Bats and Owls 

    As bats and owls are nocturnal, both of these animals quickly became known as omens of bad luck or evil and associated with All Hallow's Eve. At one time it was believed that owls would swoop down on Halloween night and eat the souls of the dying, and people could be protected from this by pulling out their pockets and leaving them hanging out. Bats were thought to indicate the presence of spirits or ghosts. One superstition held that if a bat flew around a house three times on Halloween, death would be coming soon.

    Pumpkin History

    References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was nasalized by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion." Shakespeare referred to the "pumpion" in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin." The "pumpkin" is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella.

    Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.

    History of the Jack-o-Lantern 

    People have been making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

    Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

    In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.


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