Ah, Halloween. That wonderful evening each year when children and adults dress up as their favorite characters, spooks or specters and celebrate with treks for candy or costume parties. We all love it, from its Jack O’Lanterns to its haunted houses, ghost stories, and parades of children tapping at our door. But where did this peculiar set of rituals come from?
Halloween has a few purported origins, most of them ancient festivals. Some historians say it has links to a Roman feast for the goddess of fruit and seeds, or to the Roman festival for the dead, Parentalia. Most typically though, Halloween is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of summer and marked the passage from the lighter half of the year to the darker half. (A similar festival, Calan Gaeaf, was observed by ancient Britons.)
The ancient Celts believed that a barrier existed between this world and another world containing deities and the dead. They also believed that this barrier grew thin on Samhain. This allowed spirits, both good-natured and malevolent, to come into this world. Families honored the spirits of their ancestors and invited them into their homes. Many believe that the custom of wearing costumes and masks arose from the desire to ward off harmful spirits. The idea was that by disguising yourself as a harmful spirit, you could trick the harmful ones and proceed undeterred. The festival also marked an opportunity for communities to slaughter livestock and collect food stores for the winter. Community feasts today survive as the candy and other seasonal foods we indulge in on Halloween.
The name Halloween is a shortened version of “All Hallows Evening,” the night before All Hallows Day. The term surfaced in the 16th century. All Hallows Day is a Catholic holiday, which celebrates any and all saints, both known and unknown. All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1 and because All Hallows Eve and Samhain shared a date, the two quickly became associated. Folk would refer to the festivities of Samhain as occurring on All Hallows Eve, and sooner or later the two became synonymous. This sort of conflating of pagan and Christian celebrations isn’t uncommon. Many say that Christmas is celebrated in December because it originally coincided with the pagan Yule festival.
What other Halloween traditions do we infer from Samhain? The Jack O’Lantern, for one. It stems from a similar Celtic practice. Ancient Celts hollowed out large turnips, carved faces into them, and placed them in windows to ward off evil spirits. In North America we do it with pumpkins because they’re readily available, larger, and much easier to carve.
There you have it, a quick rundown on the origins of Halloween. One thing is certain, it’s fun every year. We’ll leave you with one Halloween tradition that’s strictly modern. We’re sure the ancient Celts didn’t have this one: the November 1st candy sale. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, save some pennies and shop the day after Halloween. You can always find soon to be disassembled store displays half stocked with candy in black and orange wrapping.
And now for the best personal finance articles of the past week:
Mystery Shopping for Newbies @ PT Money: When I used to work at McDonald’s, I had frequent encounters with mystery shoppers. If I scored in the top tier, I received a fat $25 bonus on my next paycheck. Needless to say, I brought the money home each and every time!
Should Life Insurance Be Purchases as an Investment @ Wise Bread: With all of the potential investments out there, the obvious answer is no but if you read on though the article, you might actually consider purchasing life insurance as an investment.
11 Reasons To Ditch Your Television @ Man vs. Debt: Even though Adam can come up with 11 reasons not to watch TV, I can come up with 491,291,307 reasons why you should watch TV. Pretty sure my number is bigger.
Why You Should Incorporate Your Business @ Moolanomy: Incorporating your small business is essential in protecting it over the long-haul. The process can be pretty painless and doesn’t cost as much as you think.
The Financial Price of Being a Stay at Home Mom @ Money Ning: If a family can afford it, I’m a big supporter of a stay at home parent. You might be sacrificing a bit financially but on the scale of importance, family always comes before business.
Five Reasons to Invest in College-Town Real Estate @ Free Money Finance: Real estate is still an iffy proposition, especially if you’re budget is already pretty tight but if you do have some investment funds available, consider college town areas.
7 Frugally Hot Halloween Costumes @ Budgets Are Sexy: Did you see that Bert and Ernie picture within this article. That may be a cheap costume to make but don’t those guys look like bank robbers to you?
Would You Put Your Retirement At Risk to Pay for Your Kids College @ Financial Highway: If you have to choose one or the other, than you’ve already failed! Make sure you start now in putting money away for both occasions but in my opinion, a great education can be had at a local community college.
And this past week, we participated in the Carnival of Personal Finance.
Photo Credit: Sister72
Published or updated May 23, 2011.