With all the parties and trick-or-treating that's going on every 31st of October, it's easy to lose track of the true spirit of Halloween. In fact, only a few people know that this popular holiday has its roots in pagan culture!
Let's look at how the ancients celebrated Samhain before, how we celebrate Halloween now, and the ways the two converge in the modern world.
Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their New Year during the period corresponding to October 31st or November 1st.
Since winter was near around this time, they marked Samhain Night as the night of endings - the Earth was to "die", ready to go into a cold slumber. But then, the Celts also knew that after a few months, the Earth would jump back to life. That is why it is also a time of new beginnings.
Samhain was also called the Day of the Dead. The Celts believed that this night allowed for spirits to pass through Earth on their way to the afterlife. They honored their dead by lighting bright bonfires or lighting candles by the window.
People of this time feared that not all wandering spirits on Samhain were good. To ward off these malevolent beings, they carved faces onto turnips and placed lighted candles inside. This is the predecessor of the jack-o'-lantern that we know today.
Actually, almost all Halloween traditions owe their existence to Samhain. Trick-or-treating, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, and drinking cider all originated from what people did thousands of years ago.
Modern-day Halloween is one of the biggest and most popular holidays in the world. In 2019, Americans spent a whopping $9 billion for it!
You can pretty much picture Halloween night - scary movie marathons, parties, costumes, spooky lawn decorations, little ghouls running around the neighborhood.
It would be far-fetched to say that most of that money was spent on candy. But according to the National Retail Federation, 95% of Americans will buy candy on Halloween. Who would want to be the neighbor who didn't have candy for the trick-or-treaters, right?
And speaking of trick-or-treating, a group of parents is petitioning for Halloween to be moved to the nearest Saturday, so kids won't go asking around for candy on a school night!
Old doesn't necessarily mean "gone", and new isn't always "better". Halloween may be the more mainstream holiday, but those devoted to tradition stick with the original meaning and practices of Samhain.
Wiccans, witches, and some pagans still light bonfires, host dumb suppers, or hold rituals to honor their ancestors. Like the Celts, they observe Samhain as a time of endings and beginnings and welcome the start of the new year.
But this doesn't mean that one is better than the other, or that you're not allowed to celebrate both. In fact, you're welcome to do so if you want. You can get in on the candy and costume craze on Halloween, and also perform a solemn ritual before the night ends.
Many witches have mixed feelings about Halloween because of how witchcraft is misrepresented. On this day, they say, witches are portrayed as evil, warty hags either huddled around a bubbly cauldron or zooming around atop their broomsticks.
Then again, some would say that - stark as it may sound - that has always been the way witches are represented. The image of the evil witch goes back to the Witch Trials and has been immortalized in movies and TV shows.
But that's not always the case. There's been a wave of accurate depictions of witches and witchcraft in recent times. Many young people are now turning to Wicca and/or witchcraft. They and a lot of other people are becoming the voices of change. When these voices grow loud enough, who knows? Maybe there will come a year that witches will be represented on Halloween for what they truly are - wise, wonderful, and truly bewitching!
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