The word Halloween comes from the phrase “All Hallows Eve” and is also known as All Hallows Day, All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day, or All Hallowmas Day. Perhaps the oldest recordings of a celebration on Halloween are that of a druidic fire festival called Samhain. This was celebrated by the Celts in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It meant the closing of a harvest and the beginning of winter. After the Romans conquered most of that territory, they combined two of their own festivals with the traditional Celtic ritual of Samhain. The first Roman festival was called Feralia. This was a day in late October set aside to commemorate the passing of the dead. The second Roman festival was to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of the harvest. Her symbol was the apple, which could be the reason we bob for apples on Halloween.
Because they did not understand them, people believed that certain things, situations and events existed as the result of mystery and supernatural forces. In a day and age when events, such as day and night or the turning of the seasons, were not understood it is no wonder that more unusual things would be held in awe and feared. It was out of that fear of the unknown that the following sample of superstitions arose:
† It was bad luck to be buried to the north side of a church. This belief arose out of the days when criminals were customarily buried to the north and west sides, while the good Christians were buried to the south and east sides of the church.
† The saying of “God bless you” after someone sneezed arose out of the belief that in the instant after expelling air from the nose, the Devil would try to jump into the body. Quickly saying the blessing would prevent a person from becoming possessed. A similar custom of one holding a hand over their mouth when yawning was so that evil spirits couldn’t enter.
† When putting on stockings, a person knew to always put on the left one first, because it would prevent getting a toothache. But a writer in 1627 cautioned his readers that the order should be reversed to putting on the right stocking first during the dog days of summer or else you ran the risk of falling and breaking your leg.
† The last superstition to be mentioned is one that many people even today are guilty of believing in; carrying a certain object, such as a rabbit’s foot, will bring good luck. The belief grew from the superstition that witches commonly took the form of the rabbit, or hare. By carrying a rabbit’s foot, you were showing the witches that you could take control over them; thus protecting one from witchcraft.
Halloween is no stranger to controversy even in the twenty-first century. Historically Halloween endures because it allows people to both embrace and defuse their fears. From the ancient Celts who worshiped the Lord of the Dead to the little vampires and fairies trick-or-treating at your door, Halloween’s adaptability is the reason it remains – after nearly 2000 years – the most bewitching night of the year.
Happy Halloween everyone!