Hallowe’en is my favorite American holiday. This celebration evolved from the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead. The Celts divided their year into two parts‑‑ winter and summer. November 1st was considered the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was the time of harvest and of preparation for the coming cold. They called this holiday Samhain and considered it New Years Day.
Samhain was the most important Celtic holiday during the year. On its eve all the animals and people that had died the previous year made the transition from the material world into the spiritual realm. Boundaries dissolved; the edge between the living and the dead became blurred. It was a powerful time, a little bit scary and anything could happen.
Sunset on Samhain marked another edge‑‑the edge between day and night. Dusk had a special meaning. The spirits began their journey at this interval of light and dark. The people lit bonfires to help the apparitions on their way and to keep the dead away from the living. Families left food and drink out to mollify the spirits. Gates and doorways, also boundaries, were protected with symbolic decoration.
The Irish immigrants brought Hallowe’en to the United States after the great potato famine of 1849. And while the holiday is still primarily for children, American adults have embraced it wholeheartedly. It has become for us a Mardi Gras, a time of liberation from our own boundaries. We are freed from the constraints of our social mores. We live our fantasies for one night. Whores become nuns, paupers become princes, men become women and women become men. We dance away our fears. We feel liberated and alive. Like our pagan ancestors we mock the darkness that is death. What more could you ask of a festivity? Enjoy this Saturday night.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.