By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
Just as Halloween is known for being the day when the veil is thinnest between the worlds, the two days following it also remember those who have passed away, whether they are family or Christian martyrs.
November 1st is known by a variety of names: Hallowmas, All Hallow's Day and All Saints' Day, and November 2nd is All Soul's Day.
The tradition of celebrating the saints and martyrs has been marked by Christians ever since the 4th century but it was only formalized for the first time in 609 AD, when Pope Boniface IV decreed that all martyrs should also be celebrated on May 13, during something he called the Feast of All Holy Martyrs.
In 837 AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to include saints, renaming the festival the Feast of All Saints and changing the date to November 1st, and the festival has been marked on that date ever since.
In many Eastern churches it is celebrated on the first Sunday of Pentecost in May or Early June.
Candles are lit during the religious holiday and it is a time to remember dead relatives and loved ones, with different countries celebrating it in a variety of ways.
In Poland, people pay respect to the dead family members, clean their tombs and place flowers and candles on top of their graves.
The French version of the day, known as La Toussaint, is also marked by placing flowers and wreaths on tombs and graves.
Over in the Philippines, Catholic families pray at the grave of departed loved ones and remember their dead relatives.
In Mexico, November 1, is known as El Dia de los Angelitos (The Day of the Angels) where deceased children are remembered. Parents bring toys and other offerings. This is sometimes confused with the Day of the Innocents which is celebrated on December 28. The second part, El Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead commemorates deceased relatives, and is celebrated on November 2.
Like since ancient times, the skull is used to represent death, and in the Mexican tradition, women paint their face in a colorful fashion.
Another tradition is to build a private altar where photos, food, beverages and alcohol is left for the dearly departed. The idea is for the soul to visit the altar and hear the prayers and messages from the living family. Usually these altars are placed next to the tomb of the dead person.
All Souls’ Day is usually the day after All Saints’ Day and is all about praying for the souls of the dead so they can leave purgatory and go to heaven.
Prayers are said for souls still trapped in Purgatory, and this is the day when the Book of the Dead is brought to the altar of the church, and a person is allowed to write the name of a relative that they want to have remembered.
If the date falls on a Sunday a Mass of All Souls is held, as well as morning and evening prayers for the dead. All Souls’ Day tends to be more prevalent in European Catholic churches but is related to similar events worldwide.
In China there is the Chinese Ghost Festival.
Hallowe’en – which literally means ‘holy evening’. Hallow means holy. Like Christmas even, the celebration was celebrated as the day prior to All Saints Day.
It's believed the tradition of Samhain dates back several thousand years possibly to 2,000 to 2,500 B.C., which was a day when the dead were remembered. Community fires, animal sacrifices and other practices to honor the dead but at same time appease them were practiced.
The Druids were a powerful priesthood, some thought even more powerful than Celtic kings, ruled by terror and sorcery in which they told the people the gods demanded human sacrifices. They would use the entrails of humans and animals to scry into the future, especially for the coming year.
Worship of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, was an important date for the Druids, which was also the Celtic New Year. This was when the spirits of family members would return to visit the family, but also roaming spirits would wander on the earth to cause mischief.
This time also celebrated the end of summer, the time for harvest to prepare for winter, which was mostly associated with death.
However it wasn't only human spirits which could come to the earthly plane, but demonic spirits could also wreak havoc and torment the living. To prevent this, offerings would be made to appease them.
Another way to evade these troublesome spirits would be to dress up as a ghoulish character.
The word bonfire, comes from "bone fires" where Druids would burn the remains of the victims that were sacrificed on Samhain.
Up to 100 A.D. Rome celebrated the harvest as well, honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruit. During these years Rome conquered the Celts and were exposed to their version of Samhain. Roman Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon to honor Cybele, who was known previously by other names throughout the ancient world. There was a cult who practiced human sacrifice to Cybele.
In 609 A.D. Pope Boniface IV converted the pantheon into a church and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, in order to transition from its connection to Cybele.
With the advent of Christianity the mother-goddess religion was literally forced underground. Human sacrifice rituals and initiations were conducted in the catacombs under the Vatican,
Much of the Halloween folklore we know today evolved from Europe during the Dark Ages.
During 1000 A.D. All Soul's Day was incorporated to be celebrated on November 2. This would become known as Allhallowtide, when Christians would dress all in black and go door to door asking for food for the dead. This evolved into children exchanging prayers for the dead in exchange for ‘soul cakes’ in the 11th century in a tradition called ‘souling’. These soul cakes were sweet with a cross on the top and they were intended to represent a spirit being freed from purgatory when eaten.
The Puritans during the 1600s banned Halloween, not because it was connected to witchcraft but because they claimed it was a Catholic holiday.
When Ireland was hit by the Potato Famine in the 1800s, and Irish immigrants fled to the United States, they brought their own Halloween traditions with them.
The name ‘trick or treat’ was first used in America in 1929, imported by Irish immigrants.
The term ‘Jack O’Lantern’ is believed to have come from the folk story of Stingy Jack (also known as Jack the Smith, Drunk Jack, Flaky Jack) which originated in Ireland.
Jack was known as a sneaky drunk with a silver tongue.
One night he was wandering through the countryside when he found a body with a grimace on its face. Jack soon realized he had come upon the devil himself on the cobblestone path, who had come to collect his sinful soul.
He asked to drink ale before his trip to hell, and Satan took him to a pub and ordered all he wanted. When it came time to pay, Jack didn't have any money, so he asked satan to turn himself into a silver coin, in order to satisfy the bartender.
Jack who had no plans to visit the hot place took the satan coin and stuck it in his pocket along with a crucifix. Jack made a deal with the devil that he would allow him to turn back in exchange for 10 more years.
The years sped by, and satan came by for Jack's soul This time Jack asked if he could have one apple to eat. This time when the devil climbed an apple tree, Jack surrounded it with crucifixes. This time Jack bargained that he would never take his soul to hell.
Jack grew old, and his last day on earth arrived, when he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, he was turned away because of his sinful life. When he went to Hell, satan reminded him he couldn't take his soul. He gave Jack an ember inside a "hollowed turnip" to light his way, and he is doomed to roam the middle plane between good and evil.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer