Halloween - Origin and history

Halloween - Origin and history

The term Halloween is the contraction of the English expression "All Hallows Eve" which means "The Eve of All Saints". Its origin dates back over 2,500 years under the name of the feast of Her hand. This party Celtic and Gallic was celebrated to welcome the new year but also the spirits of the deceased. Abundant feast, sharing of mead, ritual sacrifices, and maintenance of the new fire by the Druids punctuated this week of festivity. How was Halloween practiced among the Celts? What Irish tale did he inspire Americans? Here is a little historical and geographical overview of this fall tradition.

The origin of Halloween and the Celtic holidays

Halloween finds its source in a Celtic ritual festival known as the Her hand. In current Gaelic, Samain translates to the month of November and symbolizes the end of summer. Over 2,500 years ago, in Ireland, Great Britain and northwestern Gaul, the Celtic year ended at the end of October, on a full moon night. On this occasion, an obligatory holiday was celebrated in honor of the coming New Year.

You should know that the Celtic year breaks down into two periods: a dark half starting on the 1ster November to Her hand and a light half starting on 1er May to Beltaine. Due to the mild and humid climate, the countries of Western Europe have only two main seasons: winter and summer. At the end of summer, the pace of life in the community changes. At this time of year, the herds have returned to the stable to be protected from the cold, and the community is freed from agricultural work.

Among the Celts, the calendar is lunar and not solar like the Gregorian calendar, that is to say that the great festivals could not take place on fixed dates. In reality, the feast of Samain takes place on the night of the nearest full moon. It is therefore for "convenience" that Halloween day will be set for October 31. The New Year, which opens a gap between the living and the dead, makes Samain such a special feast and not just a religious one.

The feast of Samain: the ancestor of the feast of Halloween

The feast of Samain lasts 7 days: three days before and three days after the full moon and is compulsory regardless of social origin under penalty of divine punishment. The feast consists in abundance of pork, beer, mead and wine. The pig, which is considered a destructive and dreadful deity, is sacred meat believed to provide immortality. Mead is a mild alcohol, a fermented drink made from water and honey.

This festival is intended to create bridges between two worlds (that of the living and the dead) where everyone is invited to come from the other side. The deceased then lose their gift of invisibility. This is a celebration of the orgy in the sense that we get together "between Of the real and imaginary world. The terms "middle" and "drunkenness" are said to have a common root in Celtic languages. This feast is accompanied by songs and ritual games through sacrifices and the setting up of a new fire. All Gauls had to put out the fire in their home so that the Druids would relight a new one to celebrate the coming year.

Samain is not only a sacred feast, it is also political, military and commercial where contracts can be established. It is an event that is above all peaceful but it is also an opportunity to renew the powers of the king who presides over the ceremony.

The Roman conquest will influence Celtic traditions by introducing the harvest festival in honor of an Etruscan goddess: Pomona. Subsequently, Christianity which rejected the pagan ritual by demonizing it, will eliminate it from the feast of All Saints. Pagan traditions survived despite the destruction of ancient temples. It's in 837 that the feast of all saints is inscribed on the liturgical calendar. That of Halloween will therefore be celebrated the day before.

From Turnip to Pumpkin: Exporting Celtic Tales to America

In 1846-1848, following the potato disease, the Irish migrated to the United States and brought with them tales and legends. You probably know the legend of Jack O’lantern, drunkard who dared to challenge the devil by playing pranks on him and who was cast out of paradise on October 31 the day before his death. He will be condemned to wander eternally with a lantern. It includes a turnip he was eating, and a candle he put inside to keep the wind from blowing it out.

Halloween has been a national holiday in the United States since the end of the 19th century, with the traditional house-to-house candy quest and the famous Trick or Treat : sweets or bad luck. Much easier to carve than the turnip, the pumpkin will be the flagship symbol of this holiday. A horror film by John Carpenter, Friday 13, will give extra thrill on Halloween night.

Halloween - Between tradition and marketing

The Celtic tradition of lighting fires to celebrate Halloween has survived into modern times in Scotland and Wales, and all Halloween events have retained the tradition of ghosts and witches. Traces of the Roman harvest festival survive with the custom in both the United States and Britain of playing games that use fruit, such as diving in a basin to retrieve apples. We find the same Roman origin in the custom of pumpkins hollowed out and carved in the form of grotesque masks, lit from the inside by a candle.

The Halloween tradition made its debut in France in 1997 with the release of a new phone called "Olaween "Accompanied by an atypical campaign and the installation of 8,000 pumpkins at the Trocadéro. In 2000, it was one of the biggest holidays after Christmas and Easter, but since then it seems to have lost some of its magic, considered too commercial. Note that this Halloween party is not to be confused with Halloween or the Death Vigil which takes place on November 2.

Bibliography on the history of halloween


- By Jean Markkale, Halloween, histoire et traditions, Imago, 2000

- De Leroux Guyonvarc, Celtic Feasts, West France Edition, 1995


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