The word Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) means summer's end. For the pre-Christian Celtic people, the beginning of their new year was November 1 on our present calendar. Samhain was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year.
Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.
As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples.
There is much disagreement about the origins and intent of many Halloween customs. Our information comes primarily from the Romans who were the enemies of the Celtic people and the Druids and so is decidedly suspect. Sort of like trying to say something nice about Bin Laden. Some of these customs may indeed be ancient. Others, however, are certainly American-made. Nevertheless, my philosophy is that anyone who is ok with our current wedding customs should keep their mouths shut about Halloween. Here are my top 10 reasons why Halloween is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year":
you can humiliate yourself with impunity
no presents are required
you are not a freak if you wear a costume
you are not politically incorrect if you laugh at what someone else is wearing
it is not only acceptable, but required that you have large amounts of candy on hand
relatives are not offended if you do not visit (unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving, Father's Day, etc.)
black is my favorite color
my warped sense of humor is temporarily appropriate
cobwebs are considered decor
the only purpose and/or requirement of the holiday is to enjoy
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