31 October 2009

100 Issues for 100 Days #76

#76: All Hallow's Eve

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday next to Christmas and my birthday (which I consider to be a holiday). As someone who's always loved stories, fantasy and theatre, the idea of an entire day dedicated to dressing in costume ... right up my alley.

But lately, as I've been talking to people I realize how maligned the holiday is. I will admit that Halloween is a far cry from what it originally was but every part of Halloween is rooted in some tradition.

At it's core Halloween is about a night when the veil between this world and the world of the dead is at its thinnest. Therefore, the spirits of the dead roam and the rituals we do are derived from the practical actions people took to ward off these spirits. Some of these practices are mostly lost, like the Celtic ritual of Samhain which is most closely related to Halloween. While others are still practiced today, like the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Costumes: The idea of costume-wearing is derived from the idea that while some spirits that may return on Halloween are helpful (the spirits of family members and friends), others may be harmful. So people wore costumes to frighten away the harmful spirits.

The Jack O' Lantern: In Irish and Scottish traditions, people lit candles to guide the spirits on their way. They would also carve turnips and rutabagas as well. This gave way to the jack o' lantern as we know it today.

Trick-or-treating: As many an altar will attest to, the giving of food to spirits is quite common in various religions. It is both an offering and a way to keep malicious spirits from trying to take more than you want them to. Historically, the poor would go door to door asking for the food that was laid out for spirits and offer their prayers for those who gave them food. This practice led to modern day trick-or-treating.

Candied Apples: Besides honouring the dead, given it's time of year, Halloween has also been a celebration of the harvest. As such, apples play a big role in the festival. In many Wiccan traditions, apples are also revered for their use in love spells. The apple is a fruit that is sacred to many traditions.

These are just a few of the Halloween traditions we know and love today. I just think it's time that people explore the history of Halloween before they think of it as scary or evil. And I think children would appreciate it more if we talked about the history and the various religious traditions it encompasses. In many ways, Halloween is one of the few holidays that everyone can embrace. I'm sure we all have a spirit we want near us as we claim our treats or plan our tricks.

Happy Halloween!

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