All Hallows Eve

Ladybobbinggif It’s Halloween! All Hallow’s Eve.  And I won’t be home tonight to see all the trick or treaters, even though I have a great howling ghost who wails wickedly and flies up in the air whenever a goblin ambles by.  And I bought all that lovely candy, too.  Well, sugar, someone will have to eat it, I guess.  Chocolate, tons of lovely chocolate.  Can’t imagine who’d be interested.

Anyway, for a change, I actually know a little history I can pull out of my hat for this blog.  The Celts are a favorite subject of my research.  They were a fascinating, mysterious race, and if I had a time travel ship, I’d love to drop by and find out where they came from and how they learned so many fascinating things.  The Celts are the origin of many intriguing legends, but Samhain (pronounced sa-win)is one of their holidays that we’re celebrating today. I’m not entirely certain how the celebration of an ancient new year, a laying to rest of an old harvest, became associated with demons and witches, but the night between the old year and the new one—October 31st—was traditionally the time when the boundaries between the living and the dead became thin enough to cross. Ghostsgif

The Celts thought this was a night where prophesy became possible, and they raised huge bonfires for all the reasons humans light bonfires, and religion was probably the least of it, although I’m sure history books will disagree with me.  <G>  They also reportedly wore costumes, probably to scare off the ghosts walking the night, or maybe just to fool their lovers into telling them their fortunes.  We might like to sound scholarly and recite all the rhetoric about scaring ghosts or worshipping the dead, but people are people.  We want romance and sex and horror stories and religion and if we can wrap it all in one fun night, go for it.

When the Romans overran Celtic lands, they pulled the usual stunt of combining their religious holidays with the Celts in some attempt to force the pagans to be uh…more pagan? The Romans had two holidays in October, one for commemorating the dead, and another celebrating a goddess whose symbol was the apple.  So gradually, the Samhain ghosts became part of the Roman celebration of the dead, and somehow apple bobbing got tossed in there.Applebobbinggif

And then along came the Christians—so Halloween isn’t totally an unChristian event for those who might like to think so.  The Christians celebrated November 1 as All Saint’s Day, and in Middle English, All-hallowmas, which eventually was corrupted into All Hallow’s Eve for the night before. 

So while I’m attending a gardening class this evening, the ghosts will be out walking among the trick-or-treaters, and maybe a whisper of prophecy will fall into the ears of those who know to listen.  Do any of you have special Halloween tricks or treats? What legends have you heard that relate to it?  There is far more than I’ve written about above, and it’s all fascinating to weave together.  Share!

24 thoughts on “All Hallows Eve”

  1. The native inhabitants of Mexico, including the Aztecs, also believed that at this time of year the force that divided the world of the living from that of the dead thinned enough for cross-world visiting. The Christian missionaries combined those beliefs with the celebration of All Souls’ Day, Nov 2. That is why Mexicans spend the day and night in the cemetaries, to celebrate “The Day of the Dead” or “Día de los Difuntos/Muertos.” They also set up altars in their homes with the favorite foods and drinks of their departed loved ones.
    I wonder if some of the Celts made it to the New World. Legend has it that Quetzalcoatl had pale skin and red hair.

    Reply
  2. The native inhabitants of Mexico, including the Aztecs, also believed that at this time of year the force that divided the world of the living from that of the dead thinned enough for cross-world visiting. The Christian missionaries combined those beliefs with the celebration of All Souls’ Day, Nov 2. That is why Mexicans spend the day and night in the cemetaries, to celebrate “The Day of the Dead” or “Día de los Difuntos/Muertos.” They also set up altars in their homes with the favorite foods and drinks of their departed loved ones.
    I wonder if some of the Celts made it to the New World. Legend has it that Quetzalcoatl had pale skin and red hair.

    Reply
  3. The native inhabitants of Mexico, including the Aztecs, also believed that at this time of year the force that divided the world of the living from that of the dead thinned enough for cross-world visiting. The Christian missionaries combined those beliefs with the celebration of All Souls’ Day, Nov 2. That is why Mexicans spend the day and night in the cemetaries, to celebrate “The Day of the Dead” or “Día de los Difuntos/Muertos.” They also set up altars in their homes with the favorite foods and drinks of their departed loved ones.
    I wonder if some of the Celts made it to the New World. Legend has it that Quetzalcoatl had pale skin and red hair.

    Reply
  4. Sometime in the dark ages*G* I did a story about Samhain’s Night, Pat. Didn’t know it was pronounced that way. In fact, who pronounces it that way? I’m not doubting you, just wondering who pronounced it correctly in the past few hundred years and who didn’t.Pronunciation, particularly in England, where my story is set, is always idiosyncratic. 🙂
    Interesting about the apples. I always wondered where bobbing for apples fit into Halloween. I assumed it was some confusion with a harvest festival. Or simply a need to get rid of excess apples.
    Growing up in England, however, Halloween was pretty much a non-event on the run-up to Guy Fawkes Day.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  5. Sometime in the dark ages*G* I did a story about Samhain’s Night, Pat. Didn’t know it was pronounced that way. In fact, who pronounces it that way? I’m not doubting you, just wondering who pronounced it correctly in the past few hundred years and who didn’t.Pronunciation, particularly in England, where my story is set, is always idiosyncratic. 🙂
    Interesting about the apples. I always wondered where bobbing for apples fit into Halloween. I assumed it was some confusion with a harvest festival. Or simply a need to get rid of excess apples.
    Growing up in England, however, Halloween was pretty much a non-event on the run-up to Guy Fawkes Day.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  6. Sometime in the dark ages*G* I did a story about Samhain’s Night, Pat. Didn’t know it was pronounced that way. In fact, who pronounces it that way? I’m not doubting you, just wondering who pronounced it correctly in the past few hundred years and who didn’t.Pronunciation, particularly in England, where my story is set, is always idiosyncratic. 🙂
    Interesting about the apples. I always wondered where bobbing for apples fit into Halloween. I assumed it was some confusion with a harvest festival. Or simply a need to get rid of excess apples.
    Growing up in England, however, Halloween was pretty much a non-event on the run-up to Guy Fawkes Day.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  7. Thanks for writing about Halloween–it’s fun to read while I sit in the living room with the dog waiting for trick or treaters (in my neighborhood, usually college students from the local institution of higher learning).
    I have a question for any of you wenches that might be interested–I know a while back that Susan Sarah mentioned the OED as a crucial resource for writers. However, I have been noticing lately thaat many “historical” romance novelists are increasingly anachronistic in their use of language: using words, phrases, idioms that surely did not exist several centuries ago. (Was reading a regency-set historical the other night and the spunky heroine said to some suggestion made by the controlling hero, “That’s your problem!”–didn’t quite sound right to my ear–actually, didn’t sound English, much less 19th century. . .or maybe I’m just over-sensitive?) Does this drive you all crazy too, and do you try to avoid it, or do you feel that a more modern language style/sensibility helps the reader–or is it just not important? Are editors alert for that kind of thing? (Even if you’re a gazillion-selling author?– smile)
    Did 19th century English folk really say “I’ll be in touch with you” or “I’ll contact you” (two more things that grate)–I don’t have an OED (though I do have a Greek lexicon!) so would love to have your guidance on this and all matters historically linguistic.
    (You are, after all, the WORD wenches!)
    Your humble and obedient reader,
    Melinda

    Reply
  8. Thanks for writing about Halloween–it’s fun to read while I sit in the living room with the dog waiting for trick or treaters (in my neighborhood, usually college students from the local institution of higher learning).
    I have a question for any of you wenches that might be interested–I know a while back that Susan Sarah mentioned the OED as a crucial resource for writers. However, I have been noticing lately thaat many “historical” romance novelists are increasingly anachronistic in their use of language: using words, phrases, idioms that surely did not exist several centuries ago. (Was reading a regency-set historical the other night and the spunky heroine said to some suggestion made by the controlling hero, “That’s your problem!”–didn’t quite sound right to my ear–actually, didn’t sound English, much less 19th century. . .or maybe I’m just over-sensitive?) Does this drive you all crazy too, and do you try to avoid it, or do you feel that a more modern language style/sensibility helps the reader–or is it just not important? Are editors alert for that kind of thing? (Even if you’re a gazillion-selling author?– smile)
    Did 19th century English folk really say “I’ll be in touch with you” or “I’ll contact you” (two more things that grate)–I don’t have an OED (though I do have a Greek lexicon!) so would love to have your guidance on this and all matters historically linguistic.
    (You are, after all, the WORD wenches!)
    Your humble and obedient reader,
    Melinda

    Reply
  9. Thanks for writing about Halloween–it’s fun to read while I sit in the living room with the dog waiting for trick or treaters (in my neighborhood, usually college students from the local institution of higher learning).
    I have a question for any of you wenches that might be interested–I know a while back that Susan Sarah mentioned the OED as a crucial resource for writers. However, I have been noticing lately thaat many “historical” romance novelists are increasingly anachronistic in their use of language: using words, phrases, idioms that surely did not exist several centuries ago. (Was reading a regency-set historical the other night and the spunky heroine said to some suggestion made by the controlling hero, “That’s your problem!”–didn’t quite sound right to my ear–actually, didn’t sound English, much less 19th century. . .or maybe I’m just over-sensitive?) Does this drive you all crazy too, and do you try to avoid it, or do you feel that a more modern language style/sensibility helps the reader–or is it just not important? Are editors alert for that kind of thing? (Even if you’re a gazillion-selling author?– smile)
    Did 19th century English folk really say “I’ll be in touch with you” or “I’ll contact you” (two more things that grate)–I don’t have an OED (though I do have a Greek lexicon!) so would love to have your guidance on this and all matters historically linguistic.
    (You are, after all, the WORD wenches!)
    Your humble and obedient reader,
    Melinda

    Reply
  10. That’s fascinating about Quetzalcoatl. The similarities of ancient civilizations fascinate me, but there is so little real evidence that too much of it is speculation for real research. Which is why it’s so much fun to fantasize about them!
    Jo, how do you pronounce Samhain? Our pronunciation discussions are always illuminating. I looked it up in two sources, but admittedly, I was too lazy to drag out the OED this time. I’d always been curious about the pronunciation which is why I checked it. Susan/Sarah is our Celt expert. we need to poke her to chime in.
    RevMelinda, you hit on a subject that we could probably rant about for days! Yes, good editors and copy editors should notice such anachronistic phrases, but I fear the editors who knew these things twenty years ago are retiring, and these days, anything goes. So I’ll sound like an old fogey if I get up on my soapbox…

    Reply
  11. That’s fascinating about Quetzalcoatl. The similarities of ancient civilizations fascinate me, but there is so little real evidence that too much of it is speculation for real research. Which is why it’s so much fun to fantasize about them!
    Jo, how do you pronounce Samhain? Our pronunciation discussions are always illuminating. I looked it up in two sources, but admittedly, I was too lazy to drag out the OED this time. I’d always been curious about the pronunciation which is why I checked it. Susan/Sarah is our Celt expert. we need to poke her to chime in.
    RevMelinda, you hit on a subject that we could probably rant about for days! Yes, good editors and copy editors should notice such anachronistic phrases, but I fear the editors who knew these things twenty years ago are retiring, and these days, anything goes. So I’ll sound like an old fogey if I get up on my soapbox…

    Reply
  12. That’s fascinating about Quetzalcoatl. The similarities of ancient civilizations fascinate me, but there is so little real evidence that too much of it is speculation for real research. Which is why it’s so much fun to fantasize about them!
    Jo, how do you pronounce Samhain? Our pronunciation discussions are always illuminating. I looked it up in two sources, but admittedly, I was too lazy to drag out the OED this time. I’d always been curious about the pronunciation which is why I checked it. Susan/Sarah is our Celt expert. we need to poke her to chime in.
    RevMelinda, you hit on a subject that we could probably rant about for days! Yes, good editors and copy editors should notice such anachronistic phrases, but I fear the editors who knew these things twenty years ago are retiring, and these days, anything goes. So I’ll sound like an old fogey if I get up on my soapbox…

    Reply
  13. Samhain: I do not know any Irish, but if it is anything like Welsh (or English!), there will be some regional variation of pronunciation even amongst native Irish-speakers. I have always heard it as Sow-en (‘sow’ rhyming with ‘cow’).
    As others have pointed out, most cultures have winter light/fire festivals, and often festivals involving the spirits of the departed as well. The social importance of Hallowe’en in American culture is likely to be due to fairly direct Irish influence – specifically Irish, not generalised Celtic.
    As Jo Beverley points out, Hallowe’en became a very minor event in Britain, because it had been virtually superseded since the early 17th century by Guy Fawkes Night. This substitution would not, I think, apply in Ireland, where I imagine Guy Fawkes would have been regarded in a somewhat different light, if commemorated at all.
    It is very curious to see the determined ‘pushing’ of Hallowe’en in Britain today, as a highly commercialised re-introduction from America. I wonder whether there will eventually be a merging or conflation of the Oct.31/Nov.5 revels here? If so, I wonder whether the ancient winter festival or the post-medieval historical event will win out as the name and identity of the celebration.

    Reply
  14. Samhain: I do not know any Irish, but if it is anything like Welsh (or English!), there will be some regional variation of pronunciation even amongst native Irish-speakers. I have always heard it as Sow-en (‘sow’ rhyming with ‘cow’).
    As others have pointed out, most cultures have winter light/fire festivals, and often festivals involving the spirits of the departed as well. The social importance of Hallowe’en in American culture is likely to be due to fairly direct Irish influence – specifically Irish, not generalised Celtic.
    As Jo Beverley points out, Hallowe’en became a very minor event in Britain, because it had been virtually superseded since the early 17th century by Guy Fawkes Night. This substitution would not, I think, apply in Ireland, where I imagine Guy Fawkes would have been regarded in a somewhat different light, if commemorated at all.
    It is very curious to see the determined ‘pushing’ of Hallowe’en in Britain today, as a highly commercialised re-introduction from America. I wonder whether there will eventually be a merging or conflation of the Oct.31/Nov.5 revels here? If so, I wonder whether the ancient winter festival or the post-medieval historical event will win out as the name and identity of the celebration.

    Reply
  15. Samhain: I do not know any Irish, but if it is anything like Welsh (or English!), there will be some regional variation of pronunciation even amongst native Irish-speakers. I have always heard it as Sow-en (‘sow’ rhyming with ‘cow’).
    As others have pointed out, most cultures have winter light/fire festivals, and often festivals involving the spirits of the departed as well. The social importance of Hallowe’en in American culture is likely to be due to fairly direct Irish influence – specifically Irish, not generalised Celtic.
    As Jo Beverley points out, Hallowe’en became a very minor event in Britain, because it had been virtually superseded since the early 17th century by Guy Fawkes Night. This substitution would not, I think, apply in Ireland, where I imagine Guy Fawkes would have been regarded in a somewhat different light, if commemorated at all.
    It is very curious to see the determined ‘pushing’ of Hallowe’en in Britain today, as a highly commercialised re-introduction from America. I wonder whether there will eventually be a merging or conflation of the Oct.31/Nov.5 revels here? If so, I wonder whether the ancient winter festival or the post-medieval historical event will win out as the name and identity of the celebration.

    Reply
  16. A P.S. to my last post – not that anyone will be reading this set of comments any more!
    It occurs to me that perhaps a few decades down the line, we Brits will simply be calling our combined Hallowe’en / Guy Fawkes festival ‘Diwali’… 😉

    Reply
  17. A P.S. to my last post – not that anyone will be reading this set of comments any more!
    It occurs to me that perhaps a few decades down the line, we Brits will simply be calling our combined Hallowe’en / Guy Fawkes festival ‘Diwali’… 😉

    Reply
  18. A P.S. to my last post – not that anyone will be reading this set of comments any more!
    It occurs to me that perhaps a few decades down the line, we Brits will simply be calling our combined Hallowe’en / Guy Fawkes festival ‘Diwali’… 😉

    Reply
  19. It’s a sad day when I can’t comment on my own column, but Typepad has shut me out again. All my elaborate replies have disappeared into the ether. I guess I can blame Mercury retrograde!
    Anyway, suffice it to say that people are reading, even if they aren’t commenting. (can’t comment, apparently!) But I must ask about “Diwali.” I don’t understand the reference!

    Reply
  20. It’s a sad day when I can’t comment on my own column, but Typepad has shut me out again. All my elaborate replies have disappeared into the ether. I guess I can blame Mercury retrograde!
    Anyway, suffice it to say that people are reading, even if they aren’t commenting. (can’t comment, apparently!) But I must ask about “Diwali.” I don’t understand the reference!

    Reply
  21. It’s a sad day when I can’t comment on my own column, but Typepad has shut me out again. All my elaborate replies have disappeared into the ether. I guess I can blame Mercury retrograde!
    Anyway, suffice it to say that people are reading, even if they aren’t commenting. (can’t comment, apparently!) But I must ask about “Diwali.” I don’t understand the reference!

    Reply
  22. Diwali: the Hindu Festival of Light, celebrated around this time of year. We have a large Bengali population in many British cities, including London, so their celebrations tend to merge with our Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks.
    🙂

    Reply
  23. Diwali: the Hindu Festival of Light, celebrated around this time of year. We have a large Bengali population in many British cities, including London, so their celebrations tend to merge with our Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks.
    🙂

    Reply
  24. Diwali: the Hindu Festival of Light, celebrated around this time of year. We have a large Bengali population in many British cities, including London, so their celebrations tend to merge with our Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks.
    🙂

    Reply

Leave a Comment