This is Halloween: the true, historical origins and meaning

Halloween is notoriously surrounded in fallacies. Ghosts haunt the living, witches brew bubbling cauldrons of poison, monsters lurk the shadows and werewolves howl at the full moon. But what is Halloween? Today, Halloween consists of costumes, candy, horror movies and monsters. Things that should normally scare us become amusing components to this holiday with seemingly no deeper meaning other than the commercialization of fear. But, is that an accurate interpretation of Halloween? What really is Halloween? 


One of the most common interpretations of Halloween is that originated from what is known today as All Saint’s Day in the Christian faith. Although, Halloween is technically the eve before (All Hallow’s Eve). All Saint’s Day is a holiday dedicated to the saints and martyrs who died for their beliefs. This must be the true meaning of Halloween, right? All Hallows Eve sounds spooky and directly deals with life and death. However, modern Halloween bears very little resemblance to remembering the dead in an honorable way. Furthermore, All Saint’s Day was originally celebrated in the Spring until the 8th century. Interestingly enough, some argue that this Christian holiday which celebrates the dead was moved from spring to autumn in order to attract Celtic Pagans whose October 31st holiday bore similar significance.  


The Celts celebrated an interesting holiday called Samhain (pronounced: Sow-win) which like All Saint’s Day celebrated the dead. Samhain marked the time of the year where the veil between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead was at its thinnest meaning souls could pass through the worlds. The dead could roam the earth and the living could find themselves in the world of the dead. Like modern Halloween, the Celts feared monsters and fairies around this time and would create “jack-o-lanterns” out of turnips in order to ward off the monsters. It sounds quite similar to modern Halloween. 


Samhain was also practical as the holiday fell in time with the harvest and served as the beginning of the new year. The Celtic new year also followed a deeper eerie meaning of the cycle between life and death. The beginning of the winter months symbolizes the part of the year where everything was dead, cold and dark. Samhain was halfway between the bright life of summer and the dead of winter; therefore, it marked the new year for the Celts in the cycle of life and death.


Now that you have heard a bit about the origins of Halloween and the conflicting meanings behind this suspicious holiday, I would like to offer my take. The Halloween season is generally thought of as a spooky time of year because lurking beneath the surface of this otherwise fun holiday is the one aspect of life that all humans are conditioned to fear: Death. Death is such an abstract concept that no one really knows what it is. Is it the end? The beginning? Does life just start over? Is our reality now really life? Or all we all already dead? Can you be alive and dead at the same time? Halloween brings that fear to life. Every human’s worst fears walk about the streets and into our consciousness. The eerie darkness begins to eat away the light until all that is left is cold dark nothing. Besides the modern festivities, Halloween contemplates this idea of life and death and forces us to question our existence. The origins of Halloween are interesting, but it is the synthesis of culture that has allowed this idea of life and death to endure and be something to celebrate life as well as be wary of the constant presence of death. 


So what really is Halloween? As a holiday whose history is seemingly meant to mislead you, what is the truth of this evening? Everything about it is twisting and turning you in the wrong direction. Perhaps even this article is meant to mislead you. So you decide, Halloween: trick or treat? 


The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.


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