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Halloween – what a weird word. There’s nothing quite like it phonetically in the English language. Except for “hello”, and “sweets”. Man, if only it really did mean just that. But the term’s real history is less on-the-nose.
At school we learn that the word is just a simple contraction of “all Hallows’ eve” and that is true. But before it was called any of these things, it was originally known as Samhain or Sauin.
Samhain is where most of Halloween today stems from
Pronounced ‘Sow-Win’ (kinda sounds like Gretchen Wieners is trying to coin a term for success; “omg that’s like, so win”) this pagan ritual was an ancient Gaelic celebration where the Celtic people marked the end of their calendar year and prepared for the dark, cold winter.
Because this “dark half of the year” was a time often associated with human death, Celts believed that on Samhain, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead disappeared, presenting a one-night-only connection to the supernatural. People would dress up in costume and present food offerings outside their homes to ward off any unruly ghosts, as well as attempt to get their fortunes read around the bonfire. This is where the elements of spooky, dress up, and trick-or-treating first came from, as well.
Samhain was Christianized into All Souls’ Day
But being a pagan ritual, Samhain was eventually Christianized and reframed as All Hallow’s Eve. All Hallow’s Day was one of the three days Roman Christians would honor and pray for the ‘hallows’ to reach heaven; hallow [v.] being an archaic term for a holy person. These days already held similar rituals to Samhain, like parades and dressing up as angels and devils. So allegedly, in the ninth century AD, Pope Gregory III switched the original date of All Hallow’s Day which fell on 13 May to instead fall on November 1st, attempting to overwrite the non-religious occasion. I suppose it does make sense to commemorate the dead when it’s darkest, so can we really blame him?
But the true Samhain still reigns supreme
Once Halloween had itself a new Christian dogma, the world said “so long” to the word ‘So-Win’. But while the celebration was intended to turn holy, the original pagan myths, beliefs and rituals were never quite done away with. Of course, over time these rituals morphed and spread, blowing up even more with the mass Irish migration to America into the Halloween we know and love today. So while Halloween may have undergone a name change, it’s still pretty much ye olde festival from 2000 years ago.
Except now we have heaters and eat too much candy.
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