What Is Halloween?
We all know Halloween as the day when kids dress up for candy and an excuse for grown-ups to throw parties and get hammered; but have you ever wondered, what is Halloween? Halloween was not always the day of silly costumes and cocktails that we know today. Halloween was originally the Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), celebrated on October 31st. This was the day that the Celtic people celebrated the passing of summer and the coming of winter. Samhain was also a magical day for Celtic people. It was believed that on Samhain the portal between the living and the spirit world would open and allow the spirits to walk among the living. Villages would start massive bonfires and make sacrifices to the spirits that would aid in health and prosperity throughout the winter. They would ask the spirits to bless the land through the harshness of winter so that there would be a bountiful harvest in the spring.
It is believed that the long held tradition of dressing up for Halloween began with the celebration of Samhain. The Celts believed that the portal opened between worlds could let in just as many evil spirits as it did good ones. The Celts also believed that during Samhain fairies would roam the earth dressed as beggars. If a beggar came to your door and you gave them food you would be rewarded. But those that wouldn't feed a beggar on Samhain would be punished by the offended fairies. This belief has survived into our modern Halloween tradition and is known as "Trick or Treating". The biggest difference between Celtic and modern "Trick or Treating" is that nowadays kids that don't get a treat are content to egg your house instead of slaughtering live stock or destroying crops.
When the Roman Empire came into power in Britain, the Romans incorporated parts of Samhain into their own year end festivals as a way to keep the peace with the locals. One of the many deities that the Romans worshipped during their festival was the goddess Pomona. She was the goddess of fruit and tress who was represented by the apple. It is belived that the worshipping the goddess Pomona began the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples and brewing apple cider during Halloween festivals. The Romans certainly had no problem with the pagan beliefs of the Celtic people, but as Roman rule came to a close and Christianity became the dominant religion, the church had serious issue with the celebration of Halloween and all other Pagan rituals. In an attempt to keep people from worshipping pagan spirits the church designated Nov. 1st, the day after Samhain, as All Saints Day. This would be a day designed to honor the dead in a church approved manner. While the move may have gotten more people into the church, it wasn't completely able to stop people from practicing traditions of their old religions. People still carved scary faces on pumpkins and turnips to ward off evil spirits. They still brewed warm apple cider and bobbing for apples remained a popular party game.