October 31, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Halloween's History

On Halloween night, young children garbed in plastic and polyester march around the neighborhood. They knock on doors, utter an age-old chant and are rewarded with candy or, more often than not, "Safe Halloween" coupons.

Few of these children (or their parents) are aware of the deep and ancient roots of the holiday they are celebrating. Halloween is perhaps the oldest known holiday of the western world.

Its history can be traced back to ancient Egypt, some 4,500 years ago. October 31 marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the barren winter. This was illustrated in myth by the murder of the god Osiris by his evil brother Set. Food, or "treats," were set out on porches and windowsills for homecoming ghosts.

In ancient Greece, food was again set out on sills an porches for Halloween phantoms, but the houses were locked tight to keep the spirits out. Pitch was spread on doorposts to make ghosts stick, should they try to get inside.

In Britain during the Dark and Middle Ages, the Druids marked the end of summer with a fertility festival on November 1 called Samhain. They believed that on Halloween, the eve of Samhain, ghosts, witches, fairies and demons came out to harm people.

In the eighth century, the Christian church adopted Samhain and called it All Saints' Day. In medieval English, it was called All Hallows Day, and the night before was All Hallows Eve, or Hallow'e'en.

In Mexico, Halloween still has special meaning, as the Day of the Dead, or "Día de los Muertos." Family members visit the graves of loved ones, place candles on their tombstones and pay respects to the dead with remembrances and celebrations.

Here in America, these rituals and festivals have long since died, but their skeletons remain. Children "trick-or-treat." People of all ages dress up in costumes, portraying the evil creatures which haunted the Halloween nights of old. And glowing "Jack-o-lanterns" leer from countless porches, in honor of the old fable describing a hot coal thrown by the Devil being stuffed into a turnip.

As you take your youngsters candy-gathering this October 31 or dress up yourself and go out on the town, look around. Many of the decorations and celebrations you see have more history to them than you might think.

From The Cuestonian, October 27, 1992.

 

©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year (almost), I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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October Columns:

10/31: Halloween's History
10/30: Good GDP, Still No Jobs
10/29: Disaster
10/27: Ash Monday
10/26: En Fuego
10/25: Diving in the Desert
10/24: Dead Car Canyon
10/23: Reflections
10/21: Le Métro
10/20: Pain
10/17: Jury Duty
10/15: Labor Pains
10/14: The Business of Losing
10/13: Owls and Jobs
10/12: Hooked
10/11: The "S" in SUV
10/9: Flee the City
10/8: Sore Losers
10/5: Turkeys
10/4: It's Not the Economy, Stupid
10/2: Focus
10/1: Twenty Years
Previous months in The Archive

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