Pop Cultured: Don’t Be Bewitched: Halloween facts and fiction

brown pumpkin halloween decor and gray skull at grass field
A spooky scene filled with pumpkins and tea light candles. Though we now associate Halloween with dressing up in costumes and eating candy, the holiday originated from Ireland with quite different reasons for celebration. Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

You might associate Halloween traditions with eating candy, dressing up in costumes and watching Halloween movies. However, Halloween originated from Ireland where the traditions of the holiday were quite different.  

According to Britannica, Halloween was originally called Samhain (pronounced sow-win). The holiday originated around 2,000 years ago as an ancient Celtic festival. 

According to a Time article titled “What Is Samhain? What to Know About the Ancient Pagan Festival That Came Before Halloween,” the holiday marked the start of the darker half of the year because winter would mean many challenges for crops. People believed spirits came back to wreak chaos unless they were appeased with offering and rituals.  

Traditionally, people dressed up and went door-to-door to exchange food offerings from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1. The traditions changed as Christians adopted it and altered it to become the Halloween we know today by the time the tradition arrived in America, according to the Time article.  

Selena Fox, a member of the International Wiccan and Pagan Resource Center in Wisconsin, said that today, the Irish still celebrate Samhain. In contrast to Halloween, Samhain focuses on the religious and spiritual worshipping of ancestors. Modern day activities can include taking walks in nature, worshipping ancestors and bonfires. Fox said Samhain is a holiday dedicated to nature. Like in Celtic culture, Mexican cultures also celebrate the dead but in a different way.  

“Day of the Dead is not the ‘Mexican Halloween’ like it is sometimes mistaken to be because of the timing of the year,” Day of the Dead Holiday website said. “The two holidays originated with similar afterlife beliefs but are very different in modern day.”  

photo of woman wearing traditional dress
A celebration of Day of the Dead, a holiday that is important to Mexican culture and lasts two days. It is a celebration of the dead, as opposed to the misconception that it is ‘Mexican Halloween.’ Photo by Genaro Servín on Pexels.com

According to a website, Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a holiday that is important to Mexican culture and, like Samhain, lasts two days. The holiday is a celebration of the dead rather than mourning. Unlike Samhain, Dia De Los Muertos is a holiday that reunites the living and the dead. Families visit cemeteries, create altars filled with Marigold flowers and food to give offerings to ancestors. Spirits of ancestors are said to come back and enjoy the food and festivities during Day of the Dead.  

Some important features to this holiday are the sugar skulls that can be painted on faces or set up as decorations. Sugar skulls serve as an important aspect of honoring ancestors. The recipe is simple, only requiring meringue, food coloring, icing, sugar and water. It is also fun to make as you can decorate it many ways, according to the Day of the Dead website. 

Check out the recipe.

Painting the face of a sugar skull colors can have many meanings.  

“Red is used to represent our blood; orange to represent the sun; yellow to represent the Mexican marigold (which represents death itself); purple is pain (though in other cultures, it could also be richness and royalty); pink and white are hope, purity and celebration; and finally, black represents the Land of the Dead,” the website said. 

Learn more about Day of the Dead. 

Learn more about Samhain.  

So, don’t fall for the trick, Samhain, the origin of Halloween, is mainly focused on warding off evil spirits, while Day of the Dead is a holiday meant to celebrate ancestors.  

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