Two thousand years ago, in the land of the Celts, life was hard — a short, dirty brutal existence. But it was never so hard as during the long, harsh winters. Every year, when summer waned and the harvest had been brought in, the cold dark months inexorably slid in.
It was a time that struck fear into the hearts of men and women; young and old, because they knew many of them would not survive the days ahead. With a life expectancy of 7,000 days – less than 20 years — the beginning of winter held a special, though frightening place in their lives. Optimistically, this is when they celebrated the new year.
They built huge sacred bonfires in which they sacrificed part of their harvest and livestock in hopes that the Celtic deities would look favorably upon them and help them not join their dead ancestors too soon. The Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins during this celebration. Their fires also helped light the way for the spirits of the dead. The Druids, or Celtic priests would gather by the fires and, with the help of the spirits of the dead (who were particularly present at this time of year) they made predictions about the future. They called this new year Samhain.
Eventually, Christians conquered the land of the Celts, but found it extremely difficult to convert these pagans and get them to give up their beliefs and customs, so they wisely melded their customs with their own. So, instead of simply outlawing Samhain, the pope in the 800s re-named it All Hallow Mass, meaning All Saints Day, to honour saints and martyrs. The night before he kept as a day to honour the dead, called All Hallows Eve.
All Hallows Eve continued to be celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. As time went on, people immigrated to American and brought their own version of this celebration with them. The rest is history.
Halloween – what’s not to love? There’s something mystical and magical about putting on a costume and interacting with people in costume. It’s so deliciously disorienting to see people you know well, transformed inside and out. In a costume, you’re not entirely yourself. Or maybe you’re more yourself than you usually allow yourself to be?
Those who still dabble in the dark arts believe that the costume we choose on Halloween says something important about who we believe ourselves to be or who we wish ourselves to be. They believe that donning this costume on the night before the new year, on the night of Samhain, will help us grow into the person we want to be in the year ahead.
Mysterious and Spooky!
Some suggest, more prosaically that you choose for your Halloween costume something you really wish you could wear all the time. Hence the popularity of “sexy” costumes for women and “women” costumes for men.
What do you think? Do you dress up for Halloween? Do you have a great costume lined up for Saturday?