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« Ramadan for one day | Main| Meeting Richard Stallman »

Happy Halloween! ... and where it came from!

Our American friends celebrate Halloween tonight and have successfully (re)exported that festival throughout the globe. Tracing the history of it is very interesting. On a first view it is the mutation/continuation of the Christian "All Hallowed Evening". A celebration to commemorate the saints (hallow=germanic, in German it is heilig = saint) and all passed away relatives.
It was the pope Gregor IV who installed that day on the first of November (and a second one "all souls day" a day after) as early as 837. During this time the usual strategy of the church (then a young and expanding organisation) was to not only Christianize people but also their customs. This had the clear advantage, that the new born Christians didn't need to get used to a new festival season (Christmas and Easter are two other examples of that strategy). But we all know if a pendulum swings in one direction, it will swing back.
The original festival was called "Samhain" and was already celebrated in Ireland about 5000 years ago. It so is one of the oldest celebrations of modern civilization. Samhain marked the end of the Celtic year, when the harvest was completed and a new year began with the family being together. During that day the border between the world and the afterworld was very thin and the death could visit the world of the living. A lot of tales, customs and stories revolve around that believe.
Many Irish settled in the US who celebrated Samhain in its rather original meaning, that in its Christian cover-up and re-established more or less knowingly the old customs. Since in the US our festivals like "Fasching" and "Carnival" are mostly unknown (unless you live around New Orleans), Halloween is the night where you slip into a different person for a day. The trick-or-treat was transformed from the old duty to give to the needy during that day.
Happy partying!

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