By: Sophie Breitmeyer
This upcoming Tuesday, much of Clatsop County will be celebrating one the best holidays the world has ever seen: Halloween. But Halloween wasn’t always a night filled with trick or treating and wild parties, but instead with animal sacrifices and ritual prayer. The holiday dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The pagan Celtics considered November 1st the beginning of each new year, a time when summer harvest ends, the cold weather begins, and community members begin to pass away. Because the Celtics associated fall and winter with human death, there was a belief that the last day of every year, October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead weakened. According to the ancient Celtic people, on Samhain, the dead return to the earth as spirits. But unlike Dia De Los Muertos, a day when the dead are welcomed, Samhain was a day to drive the dead away in order to stop them from damaging your crops.
In order to discourage ghosts the Celts wore costumes and lit huge celebratory bonfires to burn old crops and sacrifice farm animals. But eventually, following the Romans conquest of Celtic land, Samhain traditions began to merge with those of Christian holidays. Particularly the holiday All Martyrs Day: a celebration created by Pope Boniface IV. While All Martyrs Day might not sound familiar, it soon became All Saints Day after Pope Gregory III came into power.
Following the creation of All Saints Day, not much changed until more and more individuals began to cross over to the Americas. Originally Halloween was only celebrated in the southern American colonies because they lacked the strict protestant rigidity of northern New England. Ever the romantics, us Americans transformed Halloween into a sort of second Valentines day. Much of the holiday was spent looking towards romantic futures rather than back towards those who had passed. Parties were awash with matchmaking games and passionate ghost stories. Then, during the 19th century, when people began to enter America from all over Europe, Irish immigrants pushed Halloween into the mainstream. By 1920, Halloween had become a secular holiday–celebrated with parades, town wide parties, and lots and lots of vandalism. In the 1950s, as an effort to counter all the rascals defacing our towns, Halloween was largely commercialized as a holiday for younger children. Whether or not the effort worked is still up for debate.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re on the throwing or receiving end of the toilet paper (although I suppose one might be preferable), Halloween is a time to smile at stories and costumes, to gobble up both treats and tricks, and celebrate as a community. And though we no longer use animal sacrifice, Halloween is still a holiday that sends all of the unkind spirits far, far away.