"Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition," and is now celebrated as Halloween (history.com). Over the years customs have changed and the celebration of the changing seasons, and life after death have moved away from a pagan perspective to consumer driven celebrations. While Samhain was tied to the last harvest and relighting the hearth fires, after they burnt out, from a communal fire, that tradition has been adapted into what Halloween represents today.In the past, fire has been seen as protection and fuel for the home life in many cultures and was celebrated throughout, even as the pagan history started to meld away into the past. Bonfires would still be built to help keep away fairies and witches as a form of protection. Fire was thought to be good magic from the sun, that helped to grow the crops and provide life for the people. Today, we use fires to heat our homes or create ambience when we desire. Few people cook in their homes on a fire now a days and so the community's traditions of creating a large fire are relighting the hearth have gone away.
Now we find a bit of the fire from the past in the use of Jack-o-lanterns. The first Jack-o-lanterns were created out of turnips, and later switched to pumpkins. The first Jack-o-lanterns were originally lit by coal and set out on sticks. These Jack-o-lanterns were created to keep out a tricky character named Stingy Jack who Irish myth states he tricked the Devil and has been left to wander the world never going to his resting place after death.
As Christianity became more in practice the Catholic Church, through Pope Gregory, created holy days to keep the populace from fully participating in pagan rituals. All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2, keep alive the pagan traditions while putting a Christian spin on such a celebration. While now October 31 is also known as All Hallows Eve, with many of the underlying traditions still celebrated but with the original intent lost to the past.
The Celtics were not the only ones to have found celebrations between life and death. After all the Day of the Dead, or El Día de los Muertos, is widely supported in Mexican cultures as a way to honor the dead when the boarded between the two worlds is thinner, and those that have passed can come back and celebrate with their loved ones. The Mexican celebration is not a change or continuation of Halloween but more of a chance for loved ones to celebrate and show respect for those that have passed, with food and drink in honor of their lives.
When it comes to trick-or-treating, the Celtic traditions are thought to have started this process as well. The custom to give tokens or parts of the harvest to the spirits wandering the earth during the time when the spirits are closest. The treats are meant to help entice the Spirits to not create harm or mischief and help the harvest last through the dark days. Once Christianity took over, the unmarried young men would walk around town calling for treats and wore masks hiding their identity. From here the tradition of wearing costumes was born.
gather your ghosts, fairies and witches and head on out to your Halloween celebrations. Many of the traditions we now celebrate are rooted in much older traditions founded before America was developed as a country. The pagan origins are just that, how the traditions developed over time and changed with the culture of the world. Be safe while trick-or-treating this year, go as a group and make sure you have a light to be easily seen.