Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hallowe'en, Hallowmas and a Harvest of Treats

Have  you ever felt hypnotized by the dancing flames of a crackling autumn campfire, only to look up into the surrounding darkness and feel that the night was secretly filled with a life of its own?
What we now know as 31 October over 2,000 years ago was known as Samhain (sow-in).  The ancient Celts and Druids gathered around large sacred bonfires to celebrate and thank their harvest gods and to help guide the spirits of the dead safely back to the Otherworld.  As daylight hours shortened, the agricultural season came to an end, and Nature danced her sleepy swan song.  The concern of a cold, lean winter and thoughts of Death haunted every heart.  It was believed then (and in some cases now) that the veil between the living and dead melted away on the eve of Samhain (now October 31) and spirits both good and evil roamed freely throughout the
countryside, some seeking safe passage to the afterlife and some, reluctant to return, seeking to cause mischief and take possession of human bodies as vessels for their distraught souls in order to remain on Earth.  Private citizens would attempt to conceal themselves from spirits seeking possession and evil-doing by wearing masks, disguises or animal skulls and skins to slip passed the haunting wayward spirits.

These rituals continued after the Romans conquered Gaul and occupied Celtic lands for 400 years.  Of course, the Romans had their fall traditions of Feralia to honor the dead and celebrations in honor of Pomona, goddess of trees and fruit (whose symbol was the apple).  So these blended traditions continued and we find apples in our present day celebrations in the form of bobbing for apples, paring apples and candy apples. 

As Christianity saturated the culture of Gaul and after the Romans relinquished control, Samhain still continued to be a fall tradition.  In order to take the Pagan edge off this festival, Pope Gregory IV in 835 A.D. moved All Saints' Day (the Catholic Church's day to honor all martyrs and saints) from 13 May to 1 November and renamed it All Hallows'  Day.        

To accommodate Samhain which began festivities the night before (31 October) with parades, bonfires and costumes, the Church renamed the festivities as All Hallows' Eve (shortened to Hallowe'en)and All Hallows' Day.  November 2nd was named All Souls' Day to honor any dead who were not included in the saints' category and the three day celebration became known as Hallowmas.

"Soul cakes" were given to the poor who would go begging door-to-door.  In return for the cakes, the poor would promise to pray for the dead of the householder in order to speed their arrival into Heaven.    Thus Beggers' Night got its name.  Later, "Trick or Treating" originally meant that children arriving at the door would perform a song, dance or some type of delightful "trick" to earn their "treat" of sweets, pastries and nuts.  As time rolled on, the "trick" regressed into a revengeful act of vandalism rained on the homeowner's property if the treat was meager or not forthcoming.

Across the "pond" in America, the whole charade of Halloween had a slow start due to the rigidity of the Puritans and the scourge of those nasty Salem Witch trials in the North.  However, with a fresh migrational surge of Irish immigrants due to the Potato Famine in 1846, Halloween traditions were revived and blended into the celebrations, myths and traditions we have today.  The story of Stingy Jack, a despicable miser who made a deal with the Devil in exchange for his soul ended in Jack's wandering Ireland  for eternity with a carved out turnip holding an ember from Hell to light his way. 
Upon arriving on American shores, the Irish found that our native pumpkin was larger and easier to carve and light with a candle (and the inside pulp and seeds were delightful to cook up as desserts and treats).  Thus, the "Jack of the Lantern" or Jack O'Lantern was born and survives to this day to guard household thresholds and discourage the mischievous spirits of Halloween from lingering and doing harm.

Halloween grew into a more community- and family-oriented celebration over the years while superstitions and fear softened and parties and fun were stressed in our holiday.  Costumes still ruled as the dress of the day as did fortune-telling games such as "Bobbing for Apples" to predict who will marry first

and apple paring to predict one's future husband by watching the dropped apple peels coil into the initials of one's future husband.  On the "fright" side of the coin, older children and adults delight in testing their courage in visiting "haunted houses" and walking the corn mazes
 in order to bravely encounter those evil spirits who might be lurking around the corner to conjure 2,000 year old memories of the undead.

So as you gaze wistfully over your S'mores into the dancing flames of the campfire,
you can realize that those Druids and Celts, Romans, popes, Christians and Pagans, sorceresses and ghosts have now joined the afterlife and have given you a 2,000 year old gift of tradition and celebration.

In honor of Hallowe'en, Hallowmas and Harvest, the Handmade Circle Team of Etsy would love to offer you a special gift ...

We are celebrating our HMC Spooktacular Sale of over 40 delightful shops coming together and offering you a wonderful holiday bazaar of treasures for your all-round holiday gift-giving. 

There are no "tricks" in our treating and during the special sale (24 September through  7 October) we are offering discounts from 5% - 30%.  Just use the special coupon code HMCSpooky at check out.

Check out more exciting spots of the Handmade Circle team:

Fan Page on FACEBOOK:

Blog page:


Etsy Team:

Listing of our participating shops:!/groups/337617712979931/doc/338341759574193/

Our individual shop discounts will be listed on each shop's etsy site.
Go to and enter HMCSpooky in the "Search" box to take a peek at some items that are included in this sale.

Sooooo .... Happy Hallowe'en, Hallowmas and Harvest time!  Hope to see you there ... don't forget to tell your friends!!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much ... Halloween is so rich in both color, history and attitude! Just love it!

  2. Great job! Very interesting stories!

  3. Thanks, Shannon! I loved doing the research and learned so much and really came to love Halloween and its traditions so much more!

  4. Such an awesome post Carlin! Absolutely fascinating! Very well done...thank you so much for sharing:)

    1. I so appreciate your support and kind words. Makes me feel good!