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The witching hour

By Leah Ruth

Section: Features

October 29, 2010

PHOTO BY Haley Fine/The Hoot

Halloween is synonymous with free candy, crazy costumes, scary decorations and jack-o-lanterns. It is a time when all inhibitions are put on hold, and everyone can be a princess or Jedi knight for the evening.

The fun-filled holiday was once a holy day as the Interfaith Chaplaincy wrote in an e-mail to students to mark the occasion. In the United States, Halloween is almost entirely a secular holiday, but its origins come from centuries-old religious celebrations in remembrance of the dead.

Several religious holy days can claim early influence on Halloween: the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, the Festival of the Dead, a celebration honoring the dead after every harvest, or Samhain, a Celtic festival celebrating the end of the the “lighter half” of the year. All Soul’s Day, a Catholic holy day celebrated on Nov. 2 that remembers the faithful departed who were not properly cleansed before death, and remain in purgatory.

For the ancient Celts, spirits were able to pass between this world and the “Otherworld” (their idea of the afterlife) on Samhain. They celebrated and honored family who had died, and dressed up to scare off harmful spirits.

Children dressing up is also reminiscent of the middle ages, when poor people would beg door to door for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. These prayers would help lost souls escape purgatory and enter Heaven.

In Christianity, Nov. 1 became All Hallows’ Day and Nov. 2 was All Souls’ Day. The first recalled the dead who lived holy, faithful lives. All Souls’ Day was set aside to remember the rest.

For communities that commemorate these two days, visits to cemeteries and churches are common. Names of the dead are listed in a book of remembrance, which then becomes a tool so that the whole community may pray for each others’ loved ones.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday connected to All Hallows’ Day and All Souls’ Day celebrated primarily in Mexico. The day falls on November 2, bringing together family and friends to celebrate the lives of friends and family who have died. Common traditions include recreating the life of the dead with sugar skulls and favorite foods and beverages left on personalized, private altars.

Although Halloween has lost much of its religious connotations, it is still a time for children and their parents to celebrate one of the things that most religious traditions hold sacred—family. Halloween can become a time for parents to bond with their children while keeping them safe and having a great time running around the neighborhood collecting candy in a plastic pumpkin.

There will be a mass to observe All Saints’ Day on Monday at 12:10 p.m. in the Bethlehem Chapel, and a book of remembrance will be available through the month of November.

Looking for a quick costume? Check out our ideas on page 7.

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