Penny Colman - Books for All Ages
Death images of Halloween, according to many folklorists (scholars who study customs), have their origin thousands of years ago in the mingling of two events—Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in), an ancient Celtic harvest festival and All Saints Day, a Holy Day in the Roman Catholic Church to commemorate all the saints.
The Celts practiced various rituals during Samhain, some because they believed it would help them and their animals survive the dark days of winter. Other rituals were associated with the widespread belief that the souls of the dead could return home. To appease the souls, the Celts built a welcoming fire in the fireplace and set a place with a plate of food at the table. Another custom was wearing costumes or masks to ward off the dead souls.
On All Saints’ Day, special rituals were practiced. Catholic rituals included baking soul cakes, a small round cake filled with raisins or currants, flavored with sweet spices—cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and topped with a cross. The cakes were scattered around to pacify the dead souls. They were also given to children and poor people who went door-to-door “souling,” or begging for cakes on All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day. In exchange for a cake they promised to pray for the dead. “Souling” is generally believed to be the origin of trick-or-treating.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III made a move that mingled the two events. He moved All Saints Day from May 13th to the time of Samhain—November 1. The evening before, October 31, or All Hallows’ Eve, eventually morphed into Halloween, where the dead now appear as ghosts, skeletons and zombies on front lawns or as costumed trick-or-treaters.
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Halloween will soon be over, but there are still going be some very yucky things out there -- maybe even on your own front porch. David Schwartz will clue you in tomorrow in the last of our Halloween Nonfiction Minutes.