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Hook, Line and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
During the Iron age, around 650 BC (some say beginning even earlier, around 1200 BC) , there lived a tribe of folks whom the Greeks called Keltoi. These folks knew how to party, as there are countless stories of their penchant for debauchery and fighting their battles in their birthday suits. However, far from being simple tribes of barbarians, as the Romans later referred to them, the Celts were actually rather sophisticated, having organized agricultural production, a social hierarchy, common religion and using bronze and iron to make weapons and tools, while being overseen by those cool cats, the Druids. 

Ok, raise your hand if you think Mr. HLS has finally lost it. Why on earth would he take column space to write about the Celts? (pronounced with a hard C like “kelts” and not like the soft c Boston Celtics, thanks to France’s King William kicking some British booty in 1066, but that’s a story for another day) Well, it seems that the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, marking the end of summer and the harvest, and transiting to the long, cold winter, which they associated with death. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the lines between the worlds of the living and dead blurred and the dead could return to their earthly coil. In addition to causing the usual ghostly mayhem like damaging crops and such, the Celts believed that these spirits could help the Druids make predictions about the future. It was these tidbits of hope that got them through the dark days of winter, and so the Celts commemorated the night with a festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in) complete with bonfires where they sacrificed crops and animals to appease the Celtic Deities. They also wore costumes of animal skins and tried to tell each other’s futures. By the time of Christ, the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic lands, and the Samhain was combined with other roman rituals honoring the dead (Feralia) and honoring Pomona, the Goddess of Trees and Fruits. 

About 700 years later, not wanting to miss out on the action, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the pantheon in Rome to honor all Christian martyrs. Later Pope Gregory expanded the festival to include all saints and moved the day to, you guessed it, November 1. About 900 years later, with Christianity having taken root all over Europe, the Church made November 2 “All Souls Day.” All soul’s day consisted of huge bonfires and folks dressing up like angels, devils and saints. Sounds a bit familiar, eh? Another name for all soul’s day was All Hallows day, and therefore, the day before became All Hallows Eve, which over time became known as Halloween. Now you’re getting the connection, eh?

Over time, with European migration to the US becoming prevalent, the tradition came to our shores, much to the chagrin of the uptight prudes running the Colonies. Eventually, thanks especially to the immigration of, ironically, the Irish, Americans loosened up and began to borrow heavily from the European tradition of poor people going from house to house, asking for food or money and being given “soul cakes” in exchange for the promise of prayer for their loved ones. This tradition eventually evolved into trick or treating, as we know it. The tradition of dressing up can also trace its origins back to the druids, who as I mentioned earlier dressed in costumes on Samhain in order to not be recognized by the dead who were wandering the earth. They also started a tradition of putting bowls of food outside their homes in order to appease these same spirits and keep them out. Special thanks to history.com for connecting the dots I had forgotten. I hope that you and your kids had a great, safe Halloween, and if anyone was giving out full sized snickers, drop me the address so I know where to go in 2022.

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