Happy All Hallow's Eve!
By Edward Gee
. Someone once told me that I couldn’t appreciate Halloween unless I had children. Surprised and slightly offended, I shot back, “Actually, you couldn’t understand Halloween unless you were pagan.” And thus was born a rather lengthy conversation concerning the pagan origins of many modern holidays.
. But one thing had to be settled first: definitions of the words “pagan” and “holiday”.
. Though it likely stems from the Roman “paganus”, there are many definitions of “pagan”, ranging from “civilian” to “hick” or even “outsider”. Its true original meaning seems to be as elusive as the origins of the holidays themselves. Holy days, or the more modern “holidays”, as we know them today, have deep roots in prehistory.
. All holidays began somewhere. Most were created by the ancestors of those who celebrated them, but many others have foreign roots as people migrated, conquerors marched, and cultures merged, bringing their holy days with them.
. The term “Halloween” is a modern form of “Hallow's Eve”, which is in turn shortened from the old English phrase “Ellara Halgena aefen”, which means “the evening before All Saints Day”. Originally, All Saints Day was the 11th of May, but the early Catholic Church’s Pope Gregory III (731–741 AD) tried supplanting the holiday by moving it to November 1st.
. Because of its shared history, Halloween is the one of the easiest to trace back to times nearly forgotten. However, there is little indisputable evidence that points toward a singular beginning and many varying theories on why that is. A popular idea is that Halloween is the culmination of two separate holidays to form one.
. In ancient Ireland, a celebration is in full swing. It is a celebration of the end of the harvest year and the beginning of the next. The celebrants, having completed the harvest, now store food stocks and slaughter the livestock in preparation of the long winter months ahead. This is a critical time because their survival depends on their provision. Running out of supplies is not much of a concern for us, what with modern grocery stores and telephones, but running out of supplies for them meant starvation and certain death.
. The name of this celebration is Samhain (pronounced sow-in), an old Irish word meaning “summer’s end”. The ancients also believed that on this night the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead was thinnest, allowing recently passed loved ones to come back to visit the living one last time. It is easy to see how this is likely the origin of ghosts and goblins roaming around this night.
. Meanwhile, in the Middle Ages throughout Europe (particularly in England), the poor and the children alike went door to door, in a tradition called “souling”, to sing or pray for the dead in exchange for a snack called a “soul cake”. Sound familiar? Indeed, this practice is widely believed to be the basis for the modern practice of trick-or-treat!
. Modern pagans recognize and celebrate the older meanings of the holiday. One practice, originating from Celtic tradition, is a feast of the dead called the Dumb Supper (dumb meaning silent), where offerings of food and gifts are given to the recently departed and each celebrant offers a brief story or reflection of the loved one. The supper is a solemn event, full of deeply moving emotion as the celebrants say goodbye to their loved ones – a very different celebration from the “children’s holiday” practiced by many!
As you can see this is but a glimpse into a far deeper meaning of a common holiday. However you choose to celebrate this night matters little to anyone outside your community. Ultimately, it is nothing more and nothing less than what it means to you and yours.
. [Ed. Here on our blogsite www.PolarisNow.blogspot.com, video footage to be posted of how some students at North observed October 31st alongside the coffee shop.]