The Holidays Celebrated In Colonial America

Hallowe'en / All Hallows Eve / Samhain

{ The 31st of October }

  The name Halloween is derived from the name Hallowe'en, which is derived from Hallows Even, which in turn is derived from All Hallows Evening: the evening before All Hallows Day. The holiday was known by the name Halle E'en during the Colonial Period.

  The evening before All Saint's Day was sometimes referred to as Nutcrack Night because parties would be held in which people would gather to eat apples and nuts, all washed down with ale or beer. The nuts were sometimes used to foretell the future for a family. As the evening's festivities progressed, a handful of nuts would be tossed on the fire. If they stuck somewhat together and cracked open without a lot of noise, it was deemed that the family would thrive in love and happiness through the following year. But if the nuts popped and bounced around as they heated, it would be deemed that the family would fall into disagreement.

  In his book, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772 , Thomas Pennant noted that young Scots women would determine the size of their future husbands by drawing cabbages blindfolded and by throwing nuts into a fire.

  A custom was prevalent through the British Isles for young women to determine if their lovers would be faithful to them by placing two nuts on the grates of the fireplace. They would name the nuts for the lovers and then watch for any activity. If the nuts cracked and caught fire together, the lovers would have a faithful life together. But if only one of the nuts would crack and jump about, depending on which one it had been named, the young woman would know if she or if her lover would eventually become unfaithful.

  All Hallows Day, (variously, All Saints Day) which was established by the Christian Church on 01 November, was a day on which the Saints would be honored. And the following day, 02 November was established as All Souls' Day when all departed souls were to be remembered and honored, and those waiting in Purgatory were to be prayed for that they might move on into Heaven. The three days together were known as Hallowtide or the Days of the Dead.

  The general purpose of the holiday, as devised by the Christian Church, was to acknowledge that on one day of the year, the souls of all of the people who had ever died were at liberty to leave the grave, Heaven and/or Hell and walk upon the earth among their relatives and descendants. The day was spent by the living praying for their departed loved ones so that any who were still in purgatory would be able to finally move on to the Heavenly Realm.

  The idea of assisting souls who were trapped in Purgatory was accepted by most people, despite the fact that certain Christian Protestant denominations discouraged the practice - they not believing in the concept of Purgatory.

  As the years passed, the celebrants of the holiday became more obsessed with the macabre aspects of souls coming back from Hell than with the hope of helping souls in Purgatory to get into Heaven. The holiday became scarier as the souls who were permitted to roam the earth on this one night of the year took on the form of imps and ghouls and goblins and zombies.

  Legends arose throughout the European Celts and Germanic peoples that, included among the souls and other beings, would be Satan himself, accompanied by his minions. They were believed to dance and carouse through the night. The evening's activities took on another name: Walpurgisnacht, because of these legends. It means "Night of the Walpurgis" from the fact that the demons from Hell danced with Satan on the top of the Walpurgis Mountain in Germany.

  It was generally believed that the evil spirits would roam the earth unimpeded until the dawn of All Saints Day would burst forth with the ringing of church bells. With the first rays of the dawning sun and the first chimes of the ringing bells, the ghouls and goblins and witches and devils would go shrieking back into the hellish regions from which they had been set loose.

  The pagan name for this holiday was Samhain, pronounced "sow'-in". The name is believed to be derived from an Irish Gaelic word, samhraidhreadh, which means "summer's end". Samhain was one of the primary sabbats in the pagan calendar, marking the final harvest before winter.

  The Celts considered Samhain to be the last day of their year, with the equivalent of present-day November 1 being the first day of the new year. In Celtic theology, the god died on Samhain, and the goddess would mourn him, stirring his essence in her cauldron until he should re-emerge reborn and ready to rule the new year.

  The Celts believed that on Samhain the boundary between the waking world and the world of the dead stretched thin, and that souls and other denizens of the world of the dead slipped through that barrier. They believed that those souls and other beings needed to be appeased and in fact rewarded for the trip they had made to the world of the living. The Celts therefore would have a feast that lasted through the night and ended only with the crowing of the rooster as dawn broke.

  Apples were a fruit considered to be sacred to the earth goddess, and they figured prominently in the festivities of Samhain. They would be floated in a tub of water and celebrants would "bob" for them, by using just their mouths to grab one while they floated in the tub. Apples would also be buried in a ritual that claimed that they would feed the souls of departed loved ones the following Samhain.

  In England there was a tradition that if apples were left out on makeshift alters over Samhain, and were found to have been eaten, then the soul(s) which had eaten the apple(s) would reincarnate in the coming year.

  It was believed that if a young unmarried lady should go to a looking-glass (i.e. mirror) and eat an apple while combing her hair. She would see the face of her future husband peering over her shoulder.

  In Wales there was a tradition associated with Halloween with the making of a bonfire called a Coel Coeth. During the night each family would prepare a bonfire near to their house. As it burned down and was almost extinguished, each member of the family would mark a white stone with their initials. Then the stones would be thrown into the ashes of the bonfire. The family would go to bed, and in the morning the stones would all be searched for among the ashes. If any family member's stone was not to be found, it was believed that that family member would be dead before the next Halloween.

  According to Irish tradition, there was an Irishman named Jack who was so stingy that when he died his soul was not permitted to enter Heaven. Jack's soul went down to Hell, but the Devil would not let him enter there either. Instead, the Devil gave the man's soul a feeble light and condemned him to wander around the world until the end of time. Jack had no lantern in which to place the light, so he grabbed up the closest thing he could find ~ a turnip, which he hollowed out and pierced with holes from which the light could shine, creating the first jack-o'-lantern.

  The jack-o'-lantern became the favored source of light for celebrants to see their way from place to place on Halloween. As the years passed, the turnip became substituted with the pumpkin, providing a larger receptacle for a candle and also providing a larger surface in which holes could be carved to let the light out. And as time went on, the simple holes cut in the sides of the pumpkin to let the light shine out took on the shape of eyes, nose and mouth of grotesque faces.

  At some point the living celebrants began to dress up in costumes in mimicry of the departed souls who were moving abroad on Halloween. The costumes of choice were those of witches, ghosts, demons and other spooky things.

  The fascination with dressing up as the dead and other evil characters, and congregating together at parties and feasts was taken up by the people of all classes beginning around the Seventeenth Century, encouraged by the court of King Charles I of England. The upper class held lavish masquerade balls, and the middle and poorer classes indulged in drunken revelries.

  Halloween was the last holiday of the year that could be enjoyed outside, with celebrants dressed in costumes and huddled around a bonfire telling scary stories before taking off to visit all of the homes in the village to beg for the gift of some small treat.

  The custom of children going from house to house begging for candy treats comes from a custom practiced during the 17th and 18th Centuries called souling. The poor people would go to the houses of the more well-to-do in the parish begging for "soul cakes" made of oatmeal and molasses filled with raisons, in exchange for which they would pray for the souls of the departed family members.

  Of all the holidays of the year, Halloween is one for which intense feelings of either love or hate are felt by most people. Children, of course, love the holiday because they get to dress up and get free candy. Older folk often hate the holiday