It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the leaves change colors and drop from the trees. The time of year when we swap out t-shirts and shorts for jeans and cardigan sweaters, sandals for boots. We drink hot chocolate instead of iced tea. The daylight hours are growing shorter and the temperature is dropping. Two days ago we had our first snowfall here in northwest Wisconsin. We are beginning to nestle in for the winter, dreaming of the holidays to come and nights in front of a warm fire.
In the past, the change of seasons was seen as a shift between a time of plenty and a time of want, a time of life and a time of death. Halloween’s origins began 2000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced: sow-in). For the Celts this was a time of both celebration and superstition. It was a celebration of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter as well as the new year, which they celebrated on November 1st. They also believed the night before Samhain, October 31st , was the one night each year when the spirits of the dead were free to return and walk the earth. The Celts lit great bonfires and wore costumes to ward off the ghosts. They believed that if they wore a mask, if they dressed like a ghost, the ghosts would believe they were one of them and pass them by. The Celts believed that the presence of spirits made it easier for the priests and Druids to make predictions about the future. They were a people dependent on the uncertainties of nature. By believing these prophesies they brought themselves comfort over the long, dark winter ahead.
In the 18th C Pope Gregory III declared November 1st All Saints Day, a day to honor the saints and martyrs. The night before became known as All Hallows Eve. This was a time to pray for the souls of their dead. The name later changed to Halloween. Gradually over the centuries this celebration has evolved into the secular, family-friendly holiday we know today. So tomorrow children in masks and costumes will ring your doorbell, give the obligatory chant of “trick-or-treat” and in return receive from you a piece of candy. We will carve faces into pumpkins and light them with candles. We will hang ghosts and witches from our trees. Some people will go all out and recreate entire cemeteries in their front yard. Adults and teenagers will dress-up and go to parties where they will dance, bob for apples, and perhaps drink too much. There may even be a bonfire or two.
But all in good fun, right???