Friday, October 9, 2009

Broadening Horizons

On Fridays I get to play. I get to romp through the cultural wonders which drove me to a history major and still prompt me to anthropological leanings in every aspect of my life. I want to know the whys behind what people do, what they eat, the way they dress. Perhaps one day I'll finish that darn degree and actually get paid to muse over such ponderings. For now, I'll frolic through blog land, every watchful for a new, enticing tidbit I can carry back and about which I can post.

Considering it's October, I thought I'd start us off with a look back at Halloween. This mysterious holiday is shrouded in ancient customs and modern interpretations. It is the first major holiday in the autumn season, and is trumpeted in with a parade of lanterns, pumpkins, and wee ghosties, pirates and faeries. At the turning of the first leaf or hinting of the first frost, people begin anticipating the shift in the seasons. Halloween is a rite of passage for fall. The leaves are at their peak performance and everywhere, from produce stand to grocer's display, is bedazzled with pumpkins, gourds, corn, black cats, ravens and candy. Halloween paints a picture in rich textures of velvet, tweed, flannel, fleece, organdy and silk. Her colors are dark chocolate, cinnamon spiced pumpkin and golden delicious apple. Just thinking about it makes my mouth and senses water!

Children (and some adults, like myself) look forward to this time when the veil between reality and make believe is lifted. For one night out of the year, the impossible is possible and anyone can be anything they wish. And the festivals! Fall festivals, harvest festivals, Halloween and hallelujah! What a wonderful way to herald in the colder months: bonfires and barn dancing, bobbing for apples and rich cider, chatting with a friend disguised as an eighteenth century villain.

Halloween is a lesson in change. The first Halloween was actually celebrated as the Celtic New Year festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-ain). On this night, the Celts would gather around a large bonfire to celebrate the harvest and pay homage to the passing year. They would dance, drink and feast late into the night. Sadly, pagan sacrifices were made to appease the gods of the Celts and Samhain took on a hostile air. However, we must remember that these people were a fierce people with fierce beliefs. They celebrated with riotous parties: the only way they knew how to do anything was with unbridled passion.

After Christianity was brought to Ireland, the Celtic beliefs of Samhain were changed into a Christian holiday to honor the departed Saints. it became known as All Hallows Eve, and the spirits of the dearly departed were honored with feasting. Some of the old Celtic beliefs still clung to many parts of the Old Country. The Celts were very aware of the spiritual realm and didn't want to anger any harmful spirits nor did they want to invite them into their homes. SO, when places were set at tables in honor of the deceased, food and treats were placed on doorsteps to appease any harmful spirits that may pass by. The belief was that the spirits would take the food on the steps and have no need to enter the home. People would wear costumes as they went out and about after dark to confuse any harmful spirits who may wish to follow them home.
Pretty soon, people realized that they could get treats and food by taking it from the steps of those homes who put food out for the spirits. Before long, children were playing pranks on people who did not put treats out, acting as mischievous sprites and taking only treats or food as a "bribe" for not preforming any pranks. As you are sure to have guessed, that's where the traditional "Trick or Treat" originated!

Next week, I'll delve a bit deeper into the Celtic tradition of Samhain and how the changes brought about by Christianity to the British Isles.

Have a happy weekend and if you get a chance, stop by my blog Lessons in the Art of Slow for some great ideas for some Autumn goodies!

(photo link)


Icy BC said...

The picture is totally shouting out Autumn, and your post is so informative..Halloween is one of those fun celebrations for me..

Jen Chandler said...

I love the photo too! I found it on the website of a county in North Carolina.

Halloween has always been a fun time of year for me. October heralds my favorite time of year and who doesn't like pretending they're someone else every once in a while?

wenn said...

hi..that's lovely..hv a nice weekend..

Jen Chandler said...

Thanks, wenn! I hope your weekend was a wonderful one :)