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Guest column | Jack Bray

Halloween does have a spiritual side

Trick or treat!

We'll be hearing a lot of that pretty soon. Halloween! The holiday that begins the holiday season is upon us. BOO!

There was a time when the fall season was announced quietly and beautifully by all the leaves changing their colors and then softly floating to the ground.

Now, it seems, the fall holiday season is shouted loudly by the sudden changing of decorations in all the stores. Have you been to Wal-Mart lately? Here come the shoppers! Let the madness begin!

The celebration that is Halloween today began almost 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland. The Celts, the original inhabitants of Ireland, celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. It was the end of summer and the beginning of the long, cold winter. On the night before, they celebrated the festival of Samhain. On that night, they believed the souls of the dead returned to Earth and these spirits would help the Celtic priests (Druids) make predictions about the future.

To celebrate the night, the people built bonfires, wore ghost costumes and left food outside their houses to appease their deities. Otherwise, they believed, the spirits would play "tricks" on their houses. They protected themselves against ghosts by masquerading as one of them and blending in unnoticed. And so, Halloween masquerading was born.

Around A.D. 43, the celebrations got bigger when the Romans conquered most of the Irish lands. The Romans combined their feasts of Feralia (the passing of the dead) and Pomona (the goddess of fruit and trees) with the Celtic feast of Samhain. Pomona was symbolized by carrying fruit and wearing a crown of apples, which might explain "bobbing for apples" at Halloween.

When the Irish emigrated to America, the turnips that they used to hollow out and light with candles to ward off the evil spirits were not as plentiful as pumpkins, which were everywhere in winter. The origin of the term "jack-o-lantern" is a fanciful modern myth about a drunk named Jack who made a deal with the devil.

For Catholics, Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day ("All Hallows Day") or "Hallow-een." Surprisingly, All Saints was not declared a feast day in the Catholic Church until 604, when Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs and replace the pagan festival of the dead. In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved All Saint's Day from May 13 (original date) to Nov. 1. For Christians, this became an opportunity for remembering before God all the saints who had died and all the dead in the Christian community. Oct. 31 thus became All Hallows' Eve ("hallow" means "holy").

And so, what began as a time of fear of the dead and attempts to ward off evil spirits became, over the centuries, a time to respect and pray for the dead.

But it became a night to have fun as well. So, buy your bags of candy and fill your bowls by your door. Get ready! The kids are coming!

Jack Bray, a former resident of Dunedin, is a retired broadcasting executive who now lives in Alabama.

Halloween does have a spiritual side 10/28/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 2, 2008 6:50pm]

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