Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Hallows and Halloween

Okay. You may or may not be aware of this movement to replace Halloween with JesusWeen.

What is particularly laughable about this campaign, other than the rather unfortunate-sounding name, is the fact that clearly the organizers have no idea what the Hallo in Halloween means: It's from hallows. As in saints.

Because today, November 1st, is All Saints' Day.

All Saints' Day is a religious feast day in honor of all saints, "known and unknown." All Souls' Day follows it on November 2nd and, just like it sounds, is a commemoration of those who have departed. This is a very spiritually positive series of days.

So why do we associate the night before All Hallows' (Saints')---which would be All Hallows' Eve (Hallow'een)---with tricks and the devil and whatnot?

Traditionally this night was regarded as the best time for divination games, possibly as hold-over from the pagan holiday of Samhain, when the veil between this and the Otherworld was thinnest. These games often revolved around predicting the occupation of your future husband, something of vital importance to girls in the past, when they could not hold occupations themselves and their status in life would rely upon their husband's. (Such divination games led to the witch hysteria in Salem, by the way.)
It was also thought that spirits roamed the land during Samhain---not bad spirits, all spirits. But since the day was for saints, it is easy to see how the night might come to be associated with bad spirits.

In 20th century America, children would take the role of bad spirits and get up to mischief (Mischief Night) by playing tricks and pranks on their neighbors. The whole "bribe those children with candy" idea wasn't a nation-wide movement until the 1950s, when the night's emphasis was deliberately shifted from tricks to treats to make Halloween a more family-friendly (and less destructive) event.

So it's kinda funny that now there are people who think Halloween isn't family-friendly at all.

But what could be more wholesome than the traditional Halloween game of bobbing for apples, right?

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