Origins of Halloween: Harmless fun or devil's holiday?

SANDUSKY The creepy customs of ages long since past haunt us every Halloween. Costumes, carved pumpk
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

The creepy customs of ages long since past haunt us every Halloween. Costumes, carved pumpkins and trick-or-treating are familiar components of the popular Halloween holiday, but the origins of these traditions may be a little less than familiar.

The holiday's roots can be traced back 2,000 years to the Northern European festival of Samhain celebrated Oct. 31 to mark the harvest and beginning of the dark time of the year.

"It was considered the end of the growing season," said fortuneteller Ellen Kraus, 76, of the Tearose Tea Room in Sandusky. "It was believed that was the one night people could feel and communicate with their loved ones who had died over the past year."

Kraus, who has studied the Wicca religion for more than 45 years, said these ancient Wiccans or Pagans dressed in costumes and lit candles in carved-out gourds to make the spirits of their loves ones feel welcome. This could explain today's jack-o-lanterns.

"It's a time when the veils are very thin," she said of the celebration when ancient revelers attempted to tell fortunes and mingle with the souls of the dead. "Sometimes you can tap into a higher dimension."

According to the History Channel, in the 400 years after the Romans conquered much of the lands of what is now Ireland, United Kingdom and northern France, Samhain was combined with two festivals of Roman origin. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when Romans commemorated the passing of the dead, and the second was a day honoring the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona.

The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which could explain today's autumn tradition of bobbing for apples.

When Christianity began competing with these long-established beliefs, the Roman Catholic church developed several Christian holidays to coincide or replace the Roman and Wiccan holidays. The new holidays including All Hallows Eve, otherwise known as Halloween, on Oct. 31 and All Saints' Day on Nov. 1.

"Christianity took a lot of their holidays, including Christmas, from the Wicca tradition," Kraus said. "(Halloween) was a Wiccan holiday before it was All Saints' Day."

Father Frank Kehres of St. Paul Parish in Norwalk has been a Catholic priest for more than 39 years. He said Halloween is the "hallowed eve of the feast of the saints."

On All Saints' Day, he said, Catholics pay homage to great men and women of God, such as Saint Peter or Mother Teresa.

"On Nov. 1, we have the feast of All Saints, which is one of our six holiest days," he said. "The dressing up (in costumes or masks) was an imitation of the saints ... We want to hold up the saints as people for us to imitate."

Trick-or-Treating origins?

Trick-or-Treating, also known as beggar's night, is believed to have several European origins. In medieval England, poor peasants and orphans often went door to door begging for a food called "soul cakes." In exchange, the beggars would say prayers for the dead.

What about witches riding on brooms?

In medieval times, Wiccans were mostly poor and lived on lands owned by wealthy lords.

They would gather around giant cooking pots called cauldrons, where they would prepare meals during holidays and celebrations.

Sometimes the Wiccans would see their rich lords riding by on expensive horses that the peasants could not afford.

They'd mock the landowner by hopping on a broom stick and pretending they were riding a horse.