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Halloween is celebrated on the eve of October 31st each year. Today's version of the holiday evolved from traditional harvest festival celebrations. Halloween is typically thought of as a holiday for children that offers them a chance to play dress up and gather candy and other treats. Lately teens and adults have gotten into the celebration of Halloween with costume parties and haunted houses and it has evolved into a holiday for all ages. The name Halloween was derived from the Catholic holiday called All Hallows Day. All Hallows Day (otherwise known to many as All Saints Day) was a Catholic holiday observed since the Middle Ages in commemoration of Christian saints and martyrs.
Though most evidence would point to Halloween's origin being All Hallows Day, some like to trace it back to a pagan festival in Ireland called Samhain (which translated means end of summer) that took place around the time of Christ. Very little is actually known about this Celtic festival other than the Celts celebrated the end of summer and their crops being harvested with feasting and bonfires. Superstition abounded during these times. People believed that spirits walked around looking for a body to inhabit. In order to ward off evil spirits celebrants paraded through the streets in costume making loud noises to frighten any spirits away. Although there are some true thematic similarities between the two celebrations, there is no real evidence to support that the Catholic celebration of All Hallows Day was in any way a continuance of this early pagan ritual.
Around the 5th century the Catholic church brought the custom of All Hallows Day or “All Saints Day” (observed on November 1st) and All Souls Day (observed on November 2nd). On these two days they prayed consecutively for the saints and martyrs of the church and then for the souls of all the dead. Bonfires were lit to symbolize the souls of the dead lost to purgatory and the tradition of “souling” took place. Souling was a process where individuals went door to door saying prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes or various other treats. This derived from their belief that the dead were lost in a sort of limbo and prayer could influence the outcome of this limbo state. The tradition of parading in costume wasn't added to Halloween celebrations until many years later. Again, there is no real evidence other than the obvious similarities between the celebrations to suggest that one evolved from the other into modern day Halloween practices.
By the mid 1800's when Irish immigrants came to North America the custom of souling and these earlier traditional celebrations were no longer practiced in Ireland. The Halloween customs they brought with them consisted of feasting, praying and games like bobbing for apples. Modern day celebrations still carry on the tradition of bobbing for apples and candied apples have become a popular Halloween treat.
Halloween has also brought about the tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. Have you ever wondered why we suddenly decided to carve up vegetables and put a candle into them? The tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns is said to be based upon the Irish legend of Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was said to trick the devil several times trapping him and making him promise not to bother him for years and in the event of his death not to claim his soul. Eventually Stingy Jack died and was not allowed into Heaven by God. The devil was still angry about being tricked so he kept his word and refused to claim his soul. Instead he sent him out into the dark with only a burning coal to light his way. Legend has it that Jack carved out a turnip and placed the lump of burning coal into it and has been roaming the earth ever since. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern” and people carved their own versions into turnips or potatoes to scare away Jack and any other evil spirits. Nowadays on Halloween night pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns light many windows and doorsteps.
Many people will tell you that if you celebrate Halloween then you are celebrating a Pagan Holiday. I suppose the answer to whether Halloween is a pagan holiday lies in how you celebrate it. If you are celebrating witches and demons and the worship of pagan rituals and idols; then yes. However, if you are celebrating Halloween simply as a fall holiday where you and/or your children have fun dressing in costumes and trick or treating for candy; then no I don't believe that means you are celebrating a pagan ritual. Halloween is a much awaited holiday for those who enjoy dressing in costume and having some fun. There are many Halloween Props & Decorations which can be found online and ordered very inexpensively.