Don't sneeze on Halloween

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:55

    “From ghoulies and ghosties, long leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us.” Old Welsh/Scottish prayer The Celtic people If you were a Celt living in the British Isles 2000 years ago Halloween would be a different kind of day for you. It was about much more than Hershey’s Kisses and ballerina costumes. It was serious stuff at the time, the walking dead and soul snatching for instance. The pagan Celtic tribes celebrated the end of their harvest and the anticipation of winter’s barrenness with a festival named Samhain on Oct. 1, the eve of their New Year. It signified an ending and a beginning. But wait, here comes the spooky part. The Celts believed that on Samhain (pronounced sah-ween) the ethereal boundary line between the living and the dead blurred and those who had died within the year walked the earth, causing trouble and looking for bodies to possess. Ghosts, goblins and witches joined the retinue. This called for some proactive measures. To fool the spirits the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and hides. They made their homes cold and unwelcoming by extinguishing their hearth fires and paraded around making loud noises. The villagers later re-lit their hearths from the sacred bonfires of the Druids, their priests. The bonfires had been lit to honor the dead, aid the spirits on their journey - and keep them away from the living. The Romans The Romans conquered the lands, ruling for 400 years. The pagan festivals of both peoples began to meld and may account for one of today’s customs. One Roman festival honored Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol, the apple, is still seen bobbing in tubs of water today, waiting for kids to submerge their faces and surface with a McIntosh between their teeth. Roman Catholics When the Catholic missionaries arrived they tried to covert the Celts and eradicate their pagan rituals. Although somewhat diminished, the customs were never fully forgotten. In the eighth century the church appointed Nov.1 as the feast of All Saints, honoring saints and martyrs. The evening before, called “All Hallows Eve,” morphed into “Halloween.” Nov.2 was named as the feast of All Souls, when the living prayed for the dead. Jack-o-Lanterns Carved pumpkins are commonplace on Halloween today but were not the vegetable of choice in ancient times. Which brings us to the Irish folktale of Jack. Stingy Jack led a sinful, drunken life. On what was to be his last day alive the devil came to take him to hell. Jack asked the devil to buy him one last drink. When the devil changed into a sixpence to pay for the drink Jack swooped him up and put him in his pocket. Because there was a cross in Jack’s pocket the devil could not escape. In return for his freedom Jack made the devil promise to never come for his soul again. Dying shortly after, Jack was barred from heaven because of his sins and the devil didn’t want him. Jack was left to roam the earth carrying a carved turnip with one glowing ember from hell placed inside to light his way as he waited for Judgment Day. Villagers carved scary faces into turnip, beet and potato lanterns to keep Jack of the Lantern from their doors. The Jack-o-Lantern became the symbol of lost souls. Trick or treat The advent of trick or treating may have been in the ninth century when villagers would go begging for “soul cakes” on All Soul’s Day. A type of shortbread, the cakes were given to beggars in return for prayers for the dead of the family who donated the treat. No cake, no prayers. Brought to America by immigrants, trick or treating escalated between 1920 and 1930 to vandalizing pranks by boys frustrated in their poverty. Civic groups encouraged kids to go door to door for treats in return for better behavior. Halloween symbols While sleek and beautiful, black cats have suffered a bad reputation for centuries. Nocturnal by nature, they have been associated with witchcraft, spirits and reincarnations. Owls, with their haunting hoots in the night, were associated with death and evil omens. Hairy, multi-legged spiders can be venomous and bats, repulsive to many, flew out of the darkness and symbolized death. The ghosts and skeletons of Celtic times were believed to be the spirits of those who had died violently or unfairly. Evil witches consorted with the devil, cast spells and communed with cats. Even Halloween colors are symbolic: orange, the color of fall leaves and bonfires, and black, the color of evil, death and witches. Halloween in America The early settlers brought their traditions to American and eventually combined spirit-related customs with those of the American Indian and African slave. In the 1800s Irish and English immigrants brought more traditions across the ocean. From the late 1800s to the 1930s, Halloween was more an adult community holiday with costumes, parades and parties. By the 1950s it became more of a children’s holiday. It is now the second largest commercial holiday in the United States, with over $6 billion dollars spent annually on costumes and decorations. Believe it or not Babies born on Halloween are said to have “second sight” - the ability to commune with ghosts. Single women who place rosemary and a coin under their pillows on Halloween will dream of their future husband. Oh, and that headline “Don’t sneeze on Halloween?” The supposed origin of “God bless you” in response to a sneeze comes from the belief that when you sneeze you blow out your soul. On Halloween the devil is right there with a catcher’s mitt. Carry your Claritin. Sources:;;;;;;;