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Dear Religious Extremists: THIS is the True Story of Halloween

It seems we can no longer swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a religious extremist littering our public gathering places with poorly-written propaganda in an attempt to remind us any fun we may accidentally be having will send us immediately to the Flames of Hell.

Indeed, the family's most recent outing to the county playground was interrupted by a swath of these kind-hearted souls making a Sherman-esque march arm-in-arm across the fields, a ream of obnoxious orange flyers in tow.

I won't bother amusing you with the complete text of the pamphlet entitled "HALLOWEEN AND Its HORRIBLE ROOTS Introduction" delivered with such loving care by a representative of "Iglesia De Dios Church of God" (we can all-too-clearly see their grasp of the details through the redundant name), but suffice it to say the majority of the flyers hardly garnered a glance from most parents before joining the mulch at the foot of the curvy slide. To be honest, the vast majority of the paper has nothing to do with Halloween whatsoever. Yes, I managed to read it all, though it took every fiber of my being to endure the "lesson" which proclaimed that "Many today have no ideal (sic) about the truths of Halloween".

Well, I'm here to give you an ideal. Or an idea, whichever you prefer.


Halloween's roots are traced back to the Celtic festival called Samhain (SOW-in).

The Celts lived in pre-Roman Ireland, Britain, and parts of greater Northern Europe. On November 1st (of our calendar - the Celts used a lunar calendar) the Celtic Wheel of the Year turned. Samhain was the night prior - the day the old year died. On this day, the Celts believed the veil between this world and the "other side" thinned. This had several important effects. The otherworldly spirits, in all their omniscience, could aid in divination rituals. "Magic" was a daily fact of life for the Celts, and these predictions were no fortune cookie curiosities - they were an important source of drive and comfort, helping them get through the long winter. In addition to this, there were less-desirable spirits from the Otherworld that could cross over to meddle with the villagers and destroy crops. In order to dispel these angry spirits, the Celts would light sacred bonfires - usually two, as they would walk between them to cleanse their bodies and spirits of the bad energies of the past year - and wear costumes of animal skins and blue or black dye in order to look more like a spirit, and thus not attract attention. Crops and animals would often be cast into the fires as sacrifices to the Celtic deities in thanks for a bountiful harvest, and in hopes that the goddesses and gods would protect the remaining crops from the angry otherworld spirits. Other animals would be slaughtered, their bones cast into the fire, and the meat cooked in order to store for the winter. At the end of the night of festivities, they carried home coals of the sacred fire in hollowed-out turnips to light the new years' flame in the hearth that had been extinguished the night before.

Around the year 43 of the Common Era, Rome made it to the Celtic lands. In the 400 years that they ruled, many of the Celtic tribal festivals were merged with Roman festivals - both to appease the Roman citizens in apparent exile, and to somewhat mollify the conquered tribes. The two that concern us immediately are Feralia - the festival observing the passing of the souls of the dead, and the festival honouring Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees (her symbol was the apple).

By the year 800, Christianity was taking influence. In this century Pope Boniface IV designated 1 November  a day to honour saints and martyrs. This was a deliberate attempt to replace the pagan tribal/Roman festival with a Church-sanctioned holiday. The festival was called in Middle English "Alholowmesse" or "All Hallows Day" or "All Saints' Day". The night before - the night of Samhain - became known as "All Hallows Eve" and eventually "Hallowe'en". 200 years later the Church would add "All Souls' Day" to the list, a festival on 2 Nov that was celebrated similarly to Samhain - with parades, fires, and costumes of saints, angels, and demons. The three festivals together became known as Hallowmas.

The modern tradition of Trick-or-Treating comes from the Christian English tradition of "a'souling", or handing out "Soul Cakes" on All Souls' Day. Poor citizens would knock on doors and beg for food, and these pastries would be given in exchange for the promise to pray for the souls of the homeowner's dead relatives. This was encouraged by the church as a replacement for the Celtic tradition of leaving out food, wine, and milk for spirits wandering between the worlds during Samhain.

As Europeans immigrated to the Americas, their Hallowmas traditions blended with the Native American harvest traditions, and the result was a community-based celebration of the Autumn season and the harvest. Families and communities would get together for "play parties" where they would sing, play games, and tell stories of relatives passed on. Many would tell ghost stories, tell "fortunes" using smoke, mirrors, and swinging thread on a string, play pranks and make mischief of all kinds. The influx of English and Irish immigrants in the early 19th century brought traditions of costume-wearing and a'souling to the colonial parties.

In the mid-18th century, a move was made to make Halloween more about children and community than mischief-making and ghost stories. Newspapers encouraged parents to do away with anything ghoulish or frightening, and festivities focused on parties with fun games and festive costumes.

After losing most of its superstitious and religious overtones, Halloween spread as a secular community holiday, and by the 1940s trick-or-treating was revived as a child's game, as this was an inexpensive way for the entire community to participate in the festivities.


I'm sure this comes as a shock to the Iglesia De Dios Church of God, who claims that Halloween is a Satanic holiday that has something to do with the Babylonian god Nimrod's body being cut into pieces and shipped around the world, Samhain is a god of the underworld who stole the souls of the dead and demanded blood in exchange, and collectives of pagans are laughing their diabolical heads off that they have the whole of Christian America tricked into celebrating their day of human sacrifices and grave-robbing.


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