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Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31. It dates back over two thousand years to a pagan celebration called Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”) practiced by ancient Celts, who inhabited Ireland, the UK and Northern France. Samhain marked the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. Celts believed that the barrier between the physical and spirit world thinned during Samhain and deceased ancestors may cross over during this time. The harvest was gathered before massive bonfires were set. Children and adults dressed as animals and monsters during the celebration to ward off fairies.
In the 7th century, the Catholic Church established November 1 as All Saints’ Day and in 1000 AD, the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day. It’s widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace Celtic celebrations with church-sanctioned holidays.
Why do we carve pumpkins? To ward off ‘Stingy Jack’!
The practice of carving faces into vegetables comes from an Irish myth written in the 1800s about a man nicknamed ‘Stingy Jack’. He tricked the Devil and was forced to remain between heaven and hell, roaming the earth with nothing but a coal burning in a turnip. People began to carve Jack-o’-lanterns to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits.
Honouring the dead around the world…
Halloween is now one of the biggest and oldest celebrations in the world. But before becoming a mainstream festivity, many other ways of honouring the dead have been taking place in Europe and Latin America for centuries.
In France and Spain, priests led Christian processions during “Allhallowtide” beginning in the 9th century. In parts of Italy before the 15th century, families would leave a meal out for the spirits of their relatives. In Mexico, Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) takes place on the 2nd of November. Families welcome the souls of their relatives through an altar with photos, sugar skulls and food like “pan de muertos” (bread of the dead). In Britain, many historians suggest that Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated on the 5th of November since 1605, served as a Protestant replacement for All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls’ Day after reformation.