Evening ladies and gents.
It’s Halloween or Samhain for some people. Whether as a religious or secular occasion, it has been a few years since I gave much thought to it. I don’t celebrate either the religious festivals of All Hallows Eve etc., or Samhain. Nor am I a child so I find the whole trick or treat business a nuisance. I have dogs; random strangers knocking at the door upsets them.
I thought I’d explore the different aspects of this festival date, the religious and the secular.
In terms of religious holy days, Halloween is derived from All Hallow’s Eve. All Saints Day, is a Christian feast day held on the 1st November, when as the name implies all saints, especially those that don’t have their own feast day, are venerated. The following day, 2nd November, is All Soul’s Day. This is the day when the deceased are remembered. Collectively, these two days are known as Hallowtide. Originally All Saints Day was celebrated in May or June. In the tenth century All Souls Day was inaugurated, according to some sources, at Cluny in France to commemorate the dead, especially those still in purgatory. They were then put together in November.One of the traditions associated with All Soul’s is that during the festival the dead wander the earth looking for their loved ones and so candles were lit and put in the window to light their path home. In Ireland the candles were put in root veg to protect them. Later, once mass migration to America occurred, pumpkins were used. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the tradition of poorer people praying for the souls of the dead on behalf of their wealthier neighbours in return for money or a soul cake, developed in to the modern tradition of trick or treating. This is part of the general trend of religious holy days developing in to secular holidays. This is how the modern Halloween developed.
The modern Samhain is a pagan festival that incorporates elements of the Christian festival of All Soul’s, in that the dead are venerated, and it is also considered the start of the Wheel of the Year, the Wiccan New Year. The word ‘samhaim’, pronounced “sow-en”, comes from the Gaelic ‘samhuin’, which means either the end or beginning of summer. Historically, samhain is mentioned in early Irish literature and is thought to have been a harvest festival – cattle were brought down from summer pastures and slaughtered. The internet rumour that suggested it derived from a death god called Saman is generally considered to be untrue. Again, it was thought to be a liminal time when ancestors and fairies had to be propitiated. Food and drink was left out for the spirits. This is a part of the modern Samhaim for some celebrants, setting a place for the ancestors to join the family etc. for a meal.
As a secular ‘holiday’ Halloween developed from All Saint’s and All Soul’s. Aspects of the traditions associated with the Christian and pre-Christian Irish festival of Samhain. It is mainly a children’s event, involving dressing up, eating too many sweets and generally being a nuisance. As a secular event it has become more popular than Bonfire Night, even though the aspects of ritualised begging that are associated with both ‘Penny for the Guy’ and ‘Trick or Treating’, and the fun of explosions and fires. The influence of American cultural norms, spread by films and television are partly responsible for this.
I remember, as a child, occasionally going trick or treating, but also had parties with friends. Very rarely as an adult I have been invited to Samhain celebrations. Personally, since I am neither a Christian celebrating All Hallows, a Wiccan or pagan who uses the wheel of the year, or a child who wants to go begging, Halloween has no personal significance. The decorations people have in their gardens are colourful and almost the only time other than Christmas that people decorate their houses and gardens. I like to see it but it is not for me.
To my friends who celebrate either/or, have a good time,
I’m going to stay home and watch Blackadder.