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This is Halloween

Seems like today's day more then any other holiday leaves people in our society in doubt: celebrate &

not celebrate, participate &

not participate. As many kids choose to dress in spooky costumes and the green light for some mischief turns on, the questions better be answered revealing the truth behind the tradition which started long before Christianity ... And, as for any long going tradition, much of its originality got distorted with new additions, that have very little to do with the primal thought.

The word "Halloween," or the Hallow E'en as they call it in Ireland , means All Hallows Eve, or the night before the "All Hallows," or "All Saints," or "All Souls' Day," observed on Nov. 1. In old English the word "Hallow" meant "sanctify." Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans used to observe All Hallows Day to honor all saints in heaven, known or unknown. They used to consider it with all solemnity as one of the most significant observances of the Church's year.

The Romans observed the holiday of Feralia, intended to give rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered up prayers for them, and made oblations to them. The festival was celebrated on Feb. 21, the end of the Roman year. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints' Day to replace the pagan festival of the dead. It was observed on May 13. Later, Gregory III changed the date to Nov. 1. The Greek Orthodox Church observes it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Despite this connection with the Roman Church, the American version of the Halloween celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) druidic fire festival called "Samhuinn," celebrated by the Celts in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Big "Fire Festivals" were being held as fire was a physical symbol of divinity, holiness, truth and beauty (think of jack-o-lantern &

one of the un-distorted traditions of Halloween). In early Celtic society, Samhuinn was a time of no-time. Like all early societies, the Celts were structured and organized, everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign. Samhuinn was such a time. The festival lasted for three days: people did crazy things, men dressed as women and women as men, farmers' gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples' horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbors' doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today, in the custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween.

But behind this apparent lunacy, lay a deeper meaning. The druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them. The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors was drawn aside on these nights, and for those who were prepared, journeys could be made in safety to the "other side." The druid rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. The dead are honored and feasted &

not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and as guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe.

Early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting, butchered their excess stock (so the surviving animals would have enough food to make it through the winter), and held great feasts. They invited their ancestors to join them, decorated family graves, and told ghost stories, mostly just some tall tales past on from their departed ancestors.

In middle ages the big feast preceded by the colorful parades of festive groups lead by some horn-blowers announcing their arrival to the chosen neighborhoods. The leader of the gang would chant some verses in Gaelic while the rest of the group go door-to-door asking for bread and butter (an ancient version of "trick or treat"). To the medieval householders, of course, being stingy would be very bad luck, as it would violate the ancient laws of hospitality. Perhaps there were some inebriated paraders who might have decided to come back later in the night and play tricks upon those who hadn't rewarded them properly, but any references to such are fairly modern.

Halloween is the time that reconfirms the social bond of a neighborhood (particularly the bond between strangers of different generations) by a ritual act of trade. Children go overboard to dress up and overcome their fear of strangers in exchange for treats. Adults buy the candy and overcome their distrust of strange children in exchange for the pleasure of seeing their wild outfits and reliving their own adventures as children. Halloween is a time to let our inner children out to play, to pass on our childhood traditions to our children, and to share the fun with our friends and neighbors of many other faiths. So Happy Halloween!