Most trick-or-treating youngsters prowling the dark gloom on Halloween don’t really care much about the background of the holiday / holy day they’re celebrating. Dressed in various costumes such as goblins and ghosts, heroes or villains of yesteryear, these children unknowingly represent ancient traditions that began with a pagan Celtic holiday some 20 centuries ago in Europe, and gradually evolved into the Catholic celebration on the eve of the holiday. of All Saints. However, much of the tradition is obscured by the relentless passage of time and fading memories.
One thing is certain about the celebration: the devil did not participate in it. It was later added to the celebration gradually after St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in 432 AD. Until that time, the Irish and other Celtic peoples such as the Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Bretons and others had no notion of a devil. in his Adoration.
But they had a strong sense of an afterlife that is simply called “another world.” The Irish Celts called it “Tir na Nog” (land of eternal youth). It was a happy place. It was more of a land of enchantment and a paradise in the Western Sea.
Reigning over this other world was Samhain (pronounced “sow-en) who was known as the“ Lord of the Dead. ”But he had no relation to the devil.
Even today in Ireland, one of the Celtic countries where ancient customs still survive, All Hallows Eve (Halloween) before All Saints Day is known as Samhain Eve. The next day marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year, November 1, and also marks the end of the grazing season and the gathering of all crops for the winter.
According to ancient Celtic custom, all fires had to be put out and new ones lit to start a new year of abundance and light, and another victory for the sun over darkness.
For the ancient Celts, Halloween could also be a night of danger and dread as a time when spirits from other worlds roamed free. The Celts left “treats” on their doorstep for the spirits of their ancestors, and they carved oversized rutabagas or turnips and placed a candle inside these “spirit lights” to guide their ancestors home. It could be a night of happiness or discomfort depending on the relationship between the families and their ancestors.
Otherworldly spirits could also even revert to an old score to demand justice for a previous injustice that was committed to them. Therefore, the Celts began to wear disguises and masks as a way to hide from vengeful ancestors. It was also a time when the future could be understood by following certain practices, such as wagging apples. When they caught one, they would peel the apple and put the skin on his shoulder. The shells were supposed to indicate the name of a future spouse or other important information.
The Celts also believed that black cats that crossed a person’s path were bad luck. The Celts believed that black cats were former beings that were transformed into animals as a form of punishment for having done evil. The Celts also believed that spirits lived in trees and therefore would “knock on wood” to ensure their good luck continued. This may well be part of understanding the use of the term ‘the luck of the Irish’. But it was also used to explain their great success as immigrants, especially in the United States.
Before coming to the United States as a holiday, Halloween had other religious origins. There is still much debate about how the All Saints festival came to replace the ancient Celtic festival. Around 610 AD, the Roman Emperor Phocas gifted Pope Boniface IV the Roman Pantheon, the temple where pagan Roman gods and goddesses were worshiped. The Pantheon was later rededicated under the title “Santa María ad Martyres” (Saint Mary of the Martyrs). The dedication ceremony was held on May 13, and their anniversary was celebrated each year with a grand ceremony. Some historians consider this to be the origin of the feast of All Saints.
Other scholars insist that Pope Gregory III originated the feast when he dedicated an oratory to all the saints in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It seems that from this moment, at least in England, the party was celebrated on November 1.
However, the prominent scholar J. Hennig rejects both explanations and places the origin of the date of November 1 in Ireland. According to this theory, the holiday went from Ireland to Northnumberland in England, and then to the continent of Europe where other Celtic peoples would also align it with their New Years celebration. It should also be noted that in this period the Irish missionaries had already begun their travels to England and the Continent, and they had a great influence on the affairs of the church in that area.
Whatever the exact Celtic or pagan Christian origin of Halloween, we can thank their modern counterparts the Irish and Scots-Irish for preserving such a joyous children’s holiday.
The Irish were largely responsible for bringing their customs and celebrations to America in the mid-1800s when thousands of them flocked to the shores of the United States after the Great Famine of 1847-50 in Ireland. They had extended their empire and customs from the islands of the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea and from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.
These energetic and inventive people have given the world a zest for life, an incredible supply of sages and legends, and great modern literature from writers like Shaw, Yeats, O’Casey, Beckett, Joyce, and others.
And with all of that, too, they gave a Catholic / Christian meaning to an ancient holiday and brought Halloween to America for the enjoyment of trick-or-treating across the country.
But they did not bring Satan and devil worship to a joyous Celtic New Year celebration on November 1.