Volume 91, Issue 35

Friday, October 31, 1997

flesh and bones


A festival of death?

By Donna MacMullin
Gazette Staff

What is Halloween? Aside from a day when boys and ghouls get dressed up and masquerade through the neigbourhood to get their autumn stash of treats, the event is rooted in much history.

"In pre-Christian times, this was the time of year when Christians traditionally looked at spirits," said Peter Flanagan, an expert on Irish culture at Western.

The Celtic civilization, around 300 B.C., celebrated the festival of Shamhain on Oct. 31. Shamhain was the god of death and they believed this day was when the old year died and the new year began.

"It comes from the Celtic way of understanding how the years were formed," Gary Owens, an associate professor of Irish history at Huron College, said. He explained the Irish year was cut in half and November was the beginning of six months of death. "So they believed the dead were walking around that night," he said – which would explain the origin of ghost and goblin costumes.

It is believed people in costume would visit homes asking for treats and those who gave them would be assured of having a good year. 'Trick or treaters' would carry around turnips which had been hollowed-out, carved and used as lanterns. When Celts came to the New World this practice was changed to the use of pumpkins.

Over time, however, the festival was transformed to become more religious. In the eighth century, the Pope introduced All Saints Day on Nov. 1, in an effort to get people to abandon the festival of Shamhain. All Saints Day was designated a Catholic holiday to worship and pray to the saints who were dead.

All Saints Day eventually became "All Halloweds" – a day to worship the hallowed ones, the Christian dead. Since Shamhain occurred the evening before All Halloweds, it became "All Halloweds Evening" – or "Halloweds E'en," – then "Halloween" as we know it today.

To Contact The News Department: gaznews@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997