Don Wyeth


2 mins
October 26, 2021

When I was growing up, my favorite time of the year was, and still is, Halloween. Roaming the neighborhood with my brother and two sisters, we always came home with a small grocery bag full of candy apiece. What a bonanza! What followed was a major sugar blitz, and a spate of hyperactivity. However, my mother had become secretly convinced that the holiday was invented by some enterprising dentist. I remember one year, after returning with our sugary booty, we sat down in front of the TV and watched Disney's cartoon segment, Night on Bald Mountain. I have to admit that I scared myself watching it. Sleep did not come easily that night.

Long before Disney, Halloween had its origins and took its meaning from a 2000-year-old tradition of the ancient Celts, who primarily lived in Ireland, the U.K., and northern France. That ritual observance on November 1st, known as Samhain, was the celebration of their new year. Samhain signaled the beginning of  the harvest. But, it also was a recognition of the seasonal change caused by the Sun retreating to the south and the cold sterility of winter. Consequently, it was also associated with death. The Celts believed that the boundary separating our world from the world of ghosts became thinner on the eve of Samhain, October 31, allowing those spirits to return from the dead for one night.

The Celtic concept of ‘ghosts’ included the belief that they could damage crops and create mischief of all kinds. But in addition to this, the people believed that the presence of these spirits enabled their priests, known as Druids, to look into the future and make predictions. “For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.” history.com

Druid priests believed and taught that the Celtic deities required burnt offerings of a portion of crops and animals to ensure good fortune for the coming year. To accomplish this, great bonfires were built to facilitate this practice. During the ceremonies, the common people would adorn themselves with animal heads and skins, and imitating the priests, would try to tell each other what might lie ahead for the next year. Having extinguished their hearth fires before the sacrifices, each family would return home with a sacred flame from the sacrificial bon fire. This was done to secure their survival through the coming winter.

Most of the Celtic lands had been occupied by the Roman Empire in the first century CE. As a result, Samhain was combined with two Ronan festivals, Feralia, and Pomona. Feralia, observed in late October, served as a recognition for those that had died. Pomona honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. It is thought that this is where the tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween came from.

Considering the isolation that most people have experienced because of the pandemic, I think it's wonderful that the kids will have an opportunity to go trick-or-treating this Halloween. However, I recommend skipping the animal sacrifice.

This article was orginally reported by
Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.