October 27, 2014

Five Things You Didn't Know About Halloween

Five Things You Didn’t Know About  Halloween

Normally we talk about problems, emotional problems or marital problems or relational problems and then try to offer some helpful tips. Today however, we’re just gonna have some fun and learn some facts that you might not have known about this popular Fall festival.  I’m even going to tell you why I think it’s emotionally healthy for both kids and adults alike.

Where did Halloween come from?

Most of the imagery and traditions surrounding Halloween come from ancient Ireland. Over the years Halloween has evolved from a pagan festival to a roman observance, to the day before a church feast day ( all Hallows eve) until finally to our modern secular event.

Historically, our Halloween can be traced to the old Celtic New Year’s festival called Samhain (pronounced : sa Wane) which took place at the end of the harvest season. When the Romans conquered the Celts, the Druid festival was incorporated into the Roman remembrance of honoring the dead.  Centuries later, the Catholic church renamed the observance  All Souls Day.  The day before this feast day became all hallows eve  (Halloween.)

Why are Ghosts and Dressing up part of the occasion?

For the Druids the new year was at the end of the harvest season on November 1st. The new year was time that was on the border between Fall and Winter. As Fall becomes Winter, darkness and cold displace light and warmth.  This was also a time when the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred. Bonfires and dressing up as animals were used to ward off spirits, who were on a journey to the land of the dead, from mingling with the living.  Thus images of ghosts and dressing up were a tradition from the very beginning.

What is the origin of making Jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins ?

The custom of carving out and lighting pumpkins comes from the Irish legend of Stingy Jack who was cursed to wander the earth for eternity while carrying an ember from Hell which he placed inside a carved out turnip to light his way.  When the Irish came to America, Pumpkins were more prevalent and easier to carve and replaced the turnip and became a part of American Halloween lore.

When and why did Trick or treating begin?

Trick or treat is a more modern custom which evolved in the 1920’s in response to rampant  vandalism which used to take place on Halloween. I’m too young to remember the pranking but my dad told me about egging cars, soaping windows and tp-ing neighbors trees. Communities and schools  convinced neighbors to bribe kids with candy to stop with the pranks and it obviously has worked. Over time the night has become a big money maker or candy companies. 25%of all candy that  is sold in a year comes at Halloween.

Why is celebrating Halloween emotionally healthy for kids and adults?

I think the creativity and fantasy which dressing up for Halloween involves is very good for children. Encouraging young folks to explore their fantasies and safely express different parts of their personalities and feelings.  

I think Halloween is good for adults, too. Halloween endures because its themes and imagery express timeless and universal fears concerning the mysteries of life and death, of darkness and light.  Most of the time these are serious issues which are soberly addressed through religion.  Mocking, making fun of and reveling in a safe and controlled environment is a healthy change of pace  which is an affirmation that death does not stop us from living and celebrating life.                                                         

There is something else, too. It is just plain fun to dress up and safely act out what is out of character or different from how we usually present ourselves.  It is a helpful reminder that there is more to each one of us than we usually let others see.  It is good to express those hidden and neglected parts even if it’s just pretend. It’s okay to be bad as long as it’s all in good fun.

      The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC prepared these remarks for Bridge Street 10 30 2013.      www.revmichaelheath.com/

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