More than just another Hallmark holiday
Beginning in September (yes, that says September), the minute you walk into a Wal-Mart or any other department store you see black and orange signs depicting supposedly frightening figures advertising candy and costumes for October 31.
I, for one, spend a lot of time planning my costume and activities, as I am sure many people do, and it has come to be one of my favourite holidays. But the Halloween that we know now is nothing like what it used to be.
Halloween is a word that was first used around the year 1745, meaning hallowed or holy day. It originated from the Scottish term All Hallows Eve, a festival day before All Hallows Day (which we know now as All Saints Day).
In the Christian tradition, the festival of all Hallows (or Hallowmas, which is made up of All Hallows Eve, All Hallows Day, and All Souls Day) was celebrated to pray for the souls of recently departed people who they believed had not yet made it to Heaven.
It was believed that All Hallows Eve was the last chance for the souls of the dead to do their business on earth, mainly to take revenge.
So, the living would wear masks to hide their identities from the angry spirits and guisers would carry carved gourdes with them in order to ward off the spirits.
Fires were lit in the street to guide the souls away from good Christian people. Some took extra caution and had their homes blessed before All Hallows Eve, to avoid being disturbed by spirits.
Another part of modern-day Halloween is the festival of Samhain, a Gaelic Irish festival that marked the beginning of winter and the final harvest before it began.
Some of the most important events within Irish mythology begin on or happen on Samhain; the invasion of Ulster in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, the Second Battle of Maighe Tuireadh and the meeting of the Morrigan and the Dagda all occurred on Samhain.
During the festival, it’s said that otherworldly figures could be seen from different points in Ireland, including sites around County Meath and Rathcroghan.
Bonfires would be lit atop hills where rituals would occur (and then flames would be taken from the fire by those in attendance to protect their homes).
People would take stock of their livestock and crops for the coming months, offerings of food and drink would be left for spirits so that the people would be protected from the harshness of winter and people would disguise themselves for protection from the vengeful spirits.
Similar to the Christian traditions, carved gourdes would be carried in order to ward away the spirits of the dead.
In North America, up until the mid-nineteenth century, Halloween was restricted to immigrant communities, but eventually worked its way into mainstream culture. While both of these sacred festivals influenced each other in some form or other, they would eventually combine the two to become what we know now as Halloween.
Many holidays in the twenty-first century face the same dilemma as Halloween, or rather, they have changed so much to fit the times that nobody even remembers what they are really about anymore.
If you were to ask a child today what Halloween was really about, they’d tell you it was about getting candy and having the best costume. Once sacred holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s day have become these over-commercialized monstrosities that are more about the money that can be made and less about the true meaning of what they are.
Commercialism knows no bounds, as even the sacred are not beyond its reach. The spirits would not be pleased if they knew we had forgotten them.