It has numerous names and variations, but its very first word screams loud like a banshee never wanting to be forgotten; Samhain.
The best explanation to ever grace the screens comes from Michael Dougherty’s 2007 film, Trick r’ Treat. An Ohio local, a school girl called Rhonda explains, “Samhain, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, also known as Halloween.
Pre-dating Christianity, the Celtic holiday was celebrated on the one night between Autumn and Winter when the barrier between the living and the dead was at its thinnest and often involved rituals that included human sacrifice.”
A brief, but in-depth explanation of the true tradition that surrounds the Halloween holiday. However, a lot of different cultures including our own, know not the history that surrounds this spooky time of year.
Has anyone ever asked themselves why do we carve pumpkins? Why do people light bonfires? Why do children trick or treat and wear costumes? A lot of people will only say because that is what you do during Halloween and that is true, but do they know why? It is time for a quick tutorial on Halloween history, the lesson will be non-exhaustive.
Did you know that bonfires are a Celtic Samhain tradition. Bonfire has become the modern word, but broken down it is bones and fire, thus meaning a fire of bones because animal bones and crops were thrown into the flames as an offering. These fires were lit upon high hilltops in honour to make offerings to gods.
The Celts believed that the fires kept evil spirits away and people dressed in animal skins and heads to disguise themselves from such spirits. After the fires died, it was considered good luck to take an ember home and re-light the home’s hearth. The leftover ashes from the bonfires were spread across the fields as protection from spirits that would cause the next season’s crops to fail.
Frech historian, Jean Markale states that, “Irish Catholics took Halloween legends more literally and popularised the jack o’ lantern as a representation of a wandering soul.” In British folklore, we learn about Jack, a trickster who offended both God and the devil with his pranks.
The story, “Jack’s death led him to being denied access into heaven and hell though the devil begrudgingly tossed him a fiery coal which Jack caught in a hollowed-out turnip. The light in the turnip lit his night walk on earth until his judgement day.” Thus came the jack o’ lantern name.
There is a reason behind everything, a story of some sort that eventually becomes history linked to past days. In today’s modern world, children dress up in costumes to pay an unknown homage to the Celts; their ghost and skeleton attires acting as a disguise from the spirits who wreak havoc on the living when the veil between worlds was at its thinnest.
We carve faces into pumpkins to represent the wandering souls on Halloween. The younger generations of today thought that bonfires were a chance to burn and destroy planks of wood and old tires, they would fill their trolleys with anything they could get their hands on in order to create the biggest bonfire in the area.
But even though the law officials consider it to be anti-social behaviour, they are paying tribute to Celtic traditions that brought good luck. There is a reason for everything.
All these traditions are a part of something bigger, something historically important; keeping history alive and the traditions that come with Samhain. This is all one big homage to the Celts. We still remember you.