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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Halloween

Halloween Witch

"Trick-or-Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!"

Though you may or may not be quite familiar with this somewhat inconsiderate child's ditty, simply the first words in the song indicate to you what the subject of this article is with quite immediate recognition, regardless of your personal views on the matter.

The subject, of course, is Halloween. More specifically, the Origins of Halloween, and a look into some of the practices most commonly associated with it, including... you guessed it, Trick-or-Treating.

Few people realize that most of the traditions involved with Halloween, and the very occasion of Halloween itself, draws back much further than the often cited 'European spin on a Roman spin on an ancient Pagan holiday'.

An ancient Irish tribe called the 'Celts' had a religious sect called Druids who performed ancient and 'magic' rituals. One of the Druids religious festivals was OĆ­che Shamhna, celebrated in the transitional stages of Fall/Winter. Samhain was celebrated on what is now October 31st and was held just before the Celtic New Year on the following day.

Winter was one of the roughest times in the ancient days, and many people died as the result of atrocious temperature drops and lack of food caused by premature destruction of the crops by the unforgiving cold. The Druids believed that the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead began greatly blurred at this time, and that the vengeful and restless spirits would wander the earth.

In order to confuse the spirits so that they couldn't be harmed, the Druids would dress in animal skins and masks in order to avoid being identified by the spirits. They also raised up large bonfires and threw animal bones from slaughtered livestock into the fire as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

Trick-or-Treating:

Though there seems to be much dispute about where the origins of Trick-or-Treating evolved, one widely accepted fact is that in ancient times many cultures placated spirits with food offerings and other gifts. The Druids and Celts were no exception, and this seems to be the most original connotation of Trick-or-Treating. In fact, allegedly they would leave the food offerings out on the doorstep so that passing spirits would be satiated, and mischievous children dressed in their costumes (which were supposed to make them appear as the spirits did), would swoop in and steal off with the savory treats.

Another heavily disputed topic is whether or not modern Trick-or-Treating comes from the Christian practice of 'Souling'. In this practice, people would go door-to-door asking for little square breads which were known as 'Soul Cakes'. In exchange, they would promise to offer up prayers for any recently deceased family members. Sounds a little familiar, wouldn't you say?

Read more about the history of Trick-or-Treating

The Jack 'O Lantern:

Though its origins are untraced, it appears that the practice of carving vegetable lanterns in which to put a candle goes back quite a ways, and may have been introduced by the Scottish or English.

A story says that a drunken, gambling farmer named Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into running up a tree then carved a cross into the tree. The Devil cursed him to wander the earth forever at night with the only light he had... a candle in a lantern carved out of a turnip.

Later in America, pumpkins were more plentiful and easier to carve than turnips, and became the national symbol for Halloween.

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