This time of year, Americans are all looking for a Halloween costume, thinking about Halloween candy, and looking for a pumpkin to carve. When I was in S. Korea, all the young people were looking for costumes and for a Halloween party to go to. When I was in Romania, most of them didn’t think about it, but since we were Americans, some of them tried to tell us we were celebrating the devil. Some Americans even think that, but if you look into the real roots of Halloween it is exactly the opposite. People have lost the original meaning of Halloween.
Halloween originally comes from England. The old name for Halloween is “All Halo’s Eve” which most Americans know. “Halo” means “Holy.” “Eve” means the day before, like Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas day. So “All Halo’s Eve” is the day before something that is completely holy. It is the day before “All Saints Day,” the day the British celebrate that Christianity came to England. The original meaning of “saint” means someone who is set apart for God, a Christian. If someone or something is set apart for God, they are considered “holy” like the “Holy Bible.” “Bible” actually only means “book,” and “Holy Bible” means “the book set apart for God.” Hence, “All Halo’s Eve” would be the day before the day that they celebrated in England that they were all set apart for God, the day they celebrated that they became Christians.
It was extremely important to the English that they had become Christians. Before Christianity, the Druid religion reigned in old England. If you know very much about the Druid religion, the Druid priests ruled the people with fear. They made up all kinds of stories that scared the people to death! Do you know the story “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” ? It has a terrible troll that lived under a bridge that scared everyone. It was a Druid story. Everyone has heard of witches, goblins, and ghosts. They were the main characters of Druid stories. In the Druid religion, they thought witches, goblins, and ghosts actually existed. The witches were what they called the old women who did voodoo and sat around the big bonfires and told scary stories. They used voodoo dolls, those dolls that they used to make to try to control people or hurt people. If you read “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy, it talks about a woman who was doing voodoo. If you read the old tales of King Arthur, they talk about the hate and evil coming from the Druid priests. In one of the old King Arthur stories, a Druid breaks into the castle at night and kills a young man in his sleep.
When Christianity came to England, Christianity taught them they didn’t need to be afraid of the witches, goblins, and ghosts of the Druid religion. The people were overjoyed! Every “All Saint’s Day” was a huge celebration for them! They were extremely happy not to believe in witches, goblins, and ghosts anymore! They used to tease one another about the witches, goblins, and ghosts. They began a custom the day before “All Saint’s Day.” They said, “the spirits of the old religion are trying to come back!” It was a joke. They felt good that they could dress up like the craziness from the old religion and not really be afraid. They went around playing with one another like some of us do when we jump out from behind a door and yell “Boo!” at someone. They played on “All Halo’s Eve,” and then on the next day, all the costumes were put away, and all was right with the world, and it made it so much more of a celebration that they were Christians and no longer scared of those terrible things anymore!
Some modern people try to say it falls on Samhain, the day when they veil between the living and the dead was supposed to be at its thinnest. I had a student who considered herself a witch, and she said on that day, they set an extra place at the supper table for a deceased member of the family so they could join them because the veil is thin enough to pass through on that night. However, there were four different dates during the year the Druids celebrated Samhain. Why would they choose to celebrate it with crazy costumes only one time a year? When we celebrate Halloween, we are not celebrating Samhain. We are celebrating “All Halo’s Eve,” the day before “All Saint’s Day.”
The Trick or Treating is probably related to another old English custom too. They have a thing called Mummer’s Theater in England. In times past, they put on costumes and went from house to house putting on their plays. When they got done, the people in the house would give them apples, candy, and other treats, and then they would go on to another house and put their play on there. You can also see the “Mummer’s Theater” of old England if you read “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy. The English have a long history of putting on plays.
The English also used to have bonfires, big huge fires, on “All Halo’s Eve.” They still use bonfires in England on other holidays. I used to attend the bonfire they had for “Guy Fawkes Night.” Guy Fawkes was a guy who tried to blow up English parliament, and they burn him in effigy on a bonfire once a year. You can also see a bonfire in “Return of the Native,” the novel by Thomas Hardy. On “All Halo’s Eve,” the old women they called witches used to sit around these fires and tell scary stories. The Jack-o-Lantern came from one of these stories. The Jack-o-Lantern was originally made from a turnip.
When the English came to America, they brought “All Halo’s Eve.” by that time, the English were no longer wearing the costumes. They only brought the bonfire and the Jack-o-Lantern. In America, they discovered that pumpkins worked better for the Jack-o-Lantern. The Irish were still using the costumes, and when the Irish immigrated to America, they brought the costumes. The Americans had stopped using the bonfires by that time, but they liked the costumes the Irish brought, so they took up the costumes. They wanted to play with things that went bump in the night too.
Americans lost the meaning of Halloween. The English stopped celebrating it, but the Americans carried it on. Now a days, some try to change the meaning because they really don’t know the meaning anymore. Many Americans have rejected Christianity now a days, and they are trying to go back to old Pagan ways. The ones going back to old Pagan ways want to think that Halloween is their holiday. Samhain may be the Pagan holiday, but there are four nights during the year that the old English celebrated Samhain, and “All Halo’s Eve” was celebrated once a year as a time that the people were happy that they didn’t have to be scared of things that went bump in the night because Christianity came, and they knew those things weren’t true anymore. There was a time when ancient people in England were superstitious enough that they truly believed that witches had powers and that ghosts were around to hurt them, etc. It is the kind of fear that can stop your heart and actually kill you! “All Halo’s Eve,” the way the English used to celebrate it, as a freedom from fear, is truly a thing to celebrate!