Holiday has come a long way

It is the time when leaves fall from the trees, a harvest moon lies low in the sky and carved pumpkins flicker on doorsteps. Halloween is here.
Today many consider Halloween in terms of tricks and treats, costumes and candies, haunted houses and hayrides. However, not many people realize the origins of these traditions. Contemporary Halloween celebrations bear little resemblance to the religious and spiritual traditions from which they are drawn.
University campus pastor Galen Hora said that the modern Halloween celebration has little to do with its religious beginnings. Over the years Halloween has become more of a secular holiday than its Celtic and druidic origins.
Originally recognized and celebrated under the name Samhain by Celts in 500 B.C., Halloween has not always been about who had the best costume.
The official end of summer on the Celtic calendar, Oct. 31, was an anticipated day. According to legend, it was the day that the spirits of all who had died the previous year would search for another body to inhabit.
The living did not want their bodies possessed, so they found ways to ward off spirits. They did this by dressing as demons or forest creatures.
Samhain celebrants also darkened their homes to make them cold and unwelcome to the spirits. To heighten the scare factor, demon faces were carved into hollowed turnips and lit from within by candles. Years later this practice is carried on in pumpkin carvings, or jack-o’-lanterns.
Jennifer Menken, a representative from the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, said the modern jack-o’-lantern is a merging of this and another Celtic legend.
The tradition stems from an Irish folktale about a man named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing up a tree. Jack would not let the devil back down unless the devil promised never again to tempt Jack to sin.
Upon his death, Jack was not allowed into heaven and was turned away from hell because the devil held a grudge. Jack’s fate was to forever walk in darkness.
He begged the devil for something to light his way, so the devil gave him a tiny piece of coal. To make the most of it, Jack chewed out the inside of a turnip and placed the ember inside as a makeshift lantern. Hence the term, jack-o’-lantern.
Menken, the museum’s Touch and See Room specialist, said that modern trick-or-treating is also a derivative of a Celtic Samhain tradition.
Originally, people would dress up in costumes and knock on all the doors in the village looking for treats, she said. If a treat was not given, the trick-or-treater would spend the next year trying to trick the other person. Therefore it was in everyone’s best interests to have the treats handy on October 31.
The spiritual overtones of the original Celtic Samhain traditions first disappeared when Christianity was brought to Ireland. Hora said the Christians absorbed these traditions into their own celebrations of All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, and All Hallows’ Eve on Oct. 31.
All Saints’ Day honored the lives of deceased and living saints, and signified the end of summer on the Christian calendar. Hora said that even today churches celebrate the holiday on the Sunday after Halloween.
The Christian All Hallows’ Eve celebrations were harmless, consisting of feasts and social events. By the time All Hallows’ Eve reached America, however, it became a night associated with mischief.
Over the years the term Halloween emerged, a shorter version of Hallows’ Evening. It is not determined exactly when this term gained popularity.
However, it is clear that the holiday caught on, albeit in a less religious sense.
Hora and Menken both agree that the current incarnations of these traditions are more about fun than honoring saints and preserving souls.