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
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
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
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.
Cuestonian, October 27, 1992.
Strickland ALL RIGHTS