March 1, 2013
Most of us now are familiar with the way Halloween is observed by trick-or-treating in costumes, costume parties, apple bobbing, and visiting haunted houses. However the history of Halloween is something that we may have forgotten about. Historians typically link Halloween to the Celtic festival of Samhain.
The name Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (prounced sow-an or sow-in) is derived from Old Irish and roughly means “summers end”. The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and the beginning of the “darker half”, which is also known as the “Celtic New Year”. It was believed that it is necessary to ward off harmful spirits that passed through during the transition from the “lighter half of year” to the “darker half of year”.
The purpose of wearing costumes and masks was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit t to avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled, or blackened faces. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores.
In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark.
Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the U.S. Halloween commercial sales at over $6 billion dollars are even higher than Valentine’s day.