Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Meaning of Halloween

 Here is Desert Girl, dressed up in her ladybug costume. We went into Ely for a kids' Halloween party, which the kids enjoyed quite a bit.

To my parents: I know that you never drove us to go trick-or-treating because you said the candy wasn't worth the gas money. You were right. And if you're wondering why I drove 100+ miles to go get a few bagfuls of candy, here's the answer: it was a good excuse to get groceries. And the van tires changed. And go to the bank. And take books back to the library. And the candy made the kids behave the whole time, even though they each only got to have three pieces all afternoon. And mom got to have some candy too!

 Desert Boy decided to go as a skeleton, despite the costume being a little too tight, and Ava went as a cat. Oops, sorry, she was a leopard. And if anyone called her a cat, she was sure to correct them.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays as I like to dress up in different costumes and well, let's be honest, there's the whole candy angle. Yum. Who doesn't like to get candy for just saying a quick "Trick or treat?"

I teach religious education classes, and I always like to tie in events to make the classes more meaningful. So I did a Google search and learned all sorts of interesting things, some of which I have likely forgotten over the years, and other that I had never known before.

First off, "Halloween" means "hallow" or "holy" and "een" means "eve." It's Holy Eve, or the night before the holy day. What's the Holy Day? November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls Day. In some cultures, November 1 is Dia de los Inocentes, a day to remember children and infant deaths, and November 2 is Dia de los Muertos, a day to remember adult dead.

Although saints have their own feast day, there were many martyrs in the early Christian church who were unknown, for example those thrown to the lions for the Romans' entertainment. It made sense to pick one day to celebrate all these unknown martyrs, along with all the saints. In addition, the early Christians followed the Jewish tradition of praying for all those who had died. However, mass wasn't said for All Souls until 1048. With the Reformation, most Protestants dropped the doctrine of the communion of saints and praying for the dead.

Halloween is often portrayed with skeletons, ghouls, and other scary things representing death. When thinking about that the day originated with martyrs, perhaps this is appropriate. Of course there is a limit to what children can handle, and, I would say even adults, and it's up to everyone to decide what that limit is.

Trick or treating is a fun custom for many on Halloween. It originated in the Middle Ages, when it was thought that if someone died and hadn't made amends with you, they might turn into a will-o'-the-wisp or a ghost. They would appear suddenly, trying to jolt you into praying for them and forgiving them so they could move on to the next world. You might also try to provide some "treats" in order to avoid the mischief, or "tricks" of the offender. Eventually people started going door to door, masked and unrecognizable, basically wiping the slate clean for the coming year (apparently in case they died, they would already be reconciled and not have to become ghosts). They bargained for treats, hence the now common saying "Trick or treat."

Jack-o-lanterns also have an interesting history. To see details, click here. The short version is that the Irish and Scots carved scary faces into turnips and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. When they carried this tradition to America, the pumpkin was present and easier to carve.
One person suggested that Halloween is akin to Mardi Gras before Lent. It's the time to be wild and party, and then the next couple days are good for reflection about our own mortality.

However you choose to celebrate, Happy Halloween!


jendoop said...

Thanks for the bits of history, it's interesting. I think our culture could use a holiday that helps us find a better understanding of death instead of creating more fear around it. Dia de los Muertos seems like a neat holiday to me.

As always the kids are adorable, and growing too fast!

The Incredible Woody said...

I love to dress up as well. And seriously, you can't beat getting candy!!

A said...

Oh, I remember your weakness for candy....and I'm sure you are doing your best to pass it on to the kids!

Rachel said...

That is Awesome! I wish everyone knew those facts! Even the most highly religious people i know say its of the devil, and that day is worshiping him. I knew different because i have heard of the history, and the harvesters as well. I think it really depends on how you view it and celebrate it. Just because some people view it as satanic, doesnt mean it is. Thank you for sharing!!! :)

Serge said...

Kids always look way too adorable and cute during Halloween as they get to wear their costumes!

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