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The History of Halloween

October 25, 2016
by Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

With Halloween right around the corner, I decided to find out exactly how the whole tradition got started. The origins of holidays have always fascinated me and sometimes it is hard to believe the original meaning and with the rich Celtic heritage of the community, I thought it would be a fun and interesting subject.

It began as an ancient Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic people divided their calendar year into four major holidays. The first day of the year began on a day that corresponds to November 1 with a present calendar and for the Celtic people marked the beginning of winter. It was both the beginning and the ending in an eternal cycle.

The festival the Celtic people observed this time of the year was called Samhaim (Sah-ween) and was the biggest and most important holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed the hosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living. The people gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits and vegetables and to light bonfires in honor of the dead, to help them on their final journey and keep them away from the living. Samhaim became the Halloween we all know when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. Missionaries such as St. Patrick and St Columcille converted the people to Christianity.

The result of the missionaries' efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays such as Samhaim, the Celtic people were transformed in to Christians. The missionaries were told to use the beliefs and customs of the native people instead of trying to obliterate them. If they worshiped a tree, the missionaries consecrate it instead of tearing it down.

This did not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods and the Celtic belief in supernatural beings continued. The church made attempts to define these beliefs as being malicious and followers of the old religion went into hiding and they people were branded as witches.

The Christian feast of All Saints was named as November 1 in the hopes of drawing the devotion of the Celtic people and replacing Samhaim forever.

The old beliefs associated with the traveling dead were too strong and never completely died out. The old Celtic traditions were continued and the evening prior to All Saints Day is called All Hallows Eve became known as a time most intense for humans and the supernatural. Celebrating All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering deadthe people would set out food and drink for the spirits to consume on their way to the otherworld.

Trick or treating got started when tricks would be played on those who did not set out food or drink. Costumes were worn so the person or persons palying the tricks could not be identified. Soon costumes, and costume parties began and continue to this day. Many of the holidays we celebrate today have origins in pagan beliefs because Christian missionaries could not completely wipe out a belief, it was simple incorporated into today's religions.

So this year when you are out and notice the ghosts, goblins and it witches running around, remember where the custom and holiday began. It came from the Celtsic people and began as a pagan holiday to celebrate the dead and help them on their journey to the otherworld.



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