Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn, Fall Harvest and the Origin of Halloween

Lately, I've been doing a lot of deep cleaning in my house. We're at the end of a 4 year renovation project in out basement. Recently, I called one of our local sanitation companies and had them put a 12 yard dumpster in front of my house.  Then I got my kids to come over and help clean out my garage. Now I can get almost get my car back where it belongs. (Yeah!) Next, I cleaned the other half of my basement.  It's nice to be able to walk through that part without tripping over something. It's a good feeling to be finally finished with all that cleaning. It's has allowed me to finally get back to my craft room and focus on creating some purses, clutches and scarves for the holiday gift giving and seasonal festivities.

With all that being said, I've also notice the changing of seasons from summer to autumn in Southwestern Minnesota where I live. Some of the first signs in my small rural community of about 13,000 can be seen only about a minute from my house. The corn and bean fields are being harvested. The farm machinery and big semi trucks are all over the roads. You can see harvesters in the fields and the land becoming barren, except for the small stalks left after the big machines have gone over them. All the farmers are talking about the harvest. Questions are being asked such as: What is the moisture content in the crop? Have the crops dried out enough to harvest? How many bushels are we getting per acre? This goes on and on, but with good reason. For our farmers, these are the basis for their survival and helps them plan for the next year's crop.
A big harvesting machine in the field

Another sign that autumn has arrived is that the trees have just start to really show their colors. No matter where you look, the yellows, browns and reds are in abundant. The leaves have started to fall. You can even hear the crackling under your feet when you walk over the fallen leaves. In addition, there is also crispness in the air and the daylight hours are noticeably getting shorter. I also notice how much harder it is to get up in the morning, now that it is darker. 

Autumn Foliage in Southwestern Minnesota
The autumn also marks the beginning of the holiday season. Many Etsy shops are busy creating and listing holiday items. The first of these is, of course, Halloween. Do you know how Halloween got started or how some other countries celebrate Halloween? Do you know what some of their traditions are? Well let's find out the answer some of these questions, and in the process, I'll post some Halloween items from various Etsy shops.

According to the History channel website:, the origins of Halloween began with the Celts. The lived in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Northern France region over 2,000 years ago. The had a festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which celebrated the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the winter. Winter was associated with human death. (It's my guess that this probably due to cold weather and the diseases that accompanied this time of season.) It was believed by the Celts that the day before the new year, the boundary between the afterlife and the living became blurred between the two worlds. The Celts also believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and caused trouble and damaged crops. This being said, the Celts took comfort in knowing that their priests, Druids, could make predictions about the future because of these otherworldly spirits. These predictions or prophecies were important to the Celts because it helped to give them direction throughout the long, dark winter months.

Costumes became tradition, in part, as a result of this festival. The Celts usually wore animal heads or skins. It also has European roots. In winter, the days are short. People were afraid of the dark. They believed that the ghosts wouldn't recognize them if they wore masks and had to go out after  dark. Furthermore, they believed that these ghosts would mistake them as fellow spirits.
Skull Earrings from

Today the tradition of wearing a costume on Halloween has evolved. Forty or fifty years ago when I went trick or treating, the more traditional dark spiritual realm of witches, ghosts, skeletons and devils were worn. There were also gypsies, clowns and the more friendly cartoon spirits such as Casper the Friendly Ghost. However, today the theme is more modern. Halloween costumes can be political figures, super heroes, princesses, and popular video game characters. Still, the tradition of scary spirits is seen on Halloween night. In addition to people dressing in costumes, many families dress their family pets for the holiday as well.
Dog Halloween costume from

The tradition of bobbing for apples is believed to get its origins from the Romans. When they conquered the majority of Celtic lands in 43 A.D., they combined the Celtic festival Samhain with a 2 day festival of their own. The first day was known as Feralia and the second day was a day to honor the Roman Goddess, Pomona. Just as the Celts celebrated Samhain in late October, so did the Romans celebrate their festivals. Feralia commemorated the passing of the dead while Pomana was the Goddess of fruit and trees. Pamona's symbol is the apple, hence a good explanation of why bobbing for apples is practiced today. Between the Celts and the Roman festivals, you can see how easy it was to incorporate all the festivals into one big celebration. 
Spider Pillow from

Interesting fact: In Slovakia, the people traditionally spend days cleaning up the cemeteries. Then on Halloween night they light candles and spend time at the cemetery.

Halloween has its roots in the Catholic church as well, However, it was to celebrate all christian martyrs and saints. Thus, All Souls' Day and All Saints Day were created. All Souls' Day was first  established when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon to honor all the christian martyrs. It was first known as All Martyrs Day. Then the festival was expanded later to include all the saints by Pope Gregory III. The festival of saints was originally celebrated on May 13th, but it was eventually moved to November 1st, with All Souls' Day celebrated on November 2nd to commemorate and honor the dead. Many believe that the Catholic church was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a more meaningful church-sanctioned holiday.

Interesting fact: The word Halloween derives from the All Saints Day celebration known as All-hallows or All-hallowans. It's from the middle English word Alholownesse, meaning All Saints Day.  The evening before All Saints Day, which is the traditional night of Samhain, became known as All-hallows Eve and eventually Halloween. 

When Halloween came to colonial America it was mostly celebrated in Maryland and the southern colonies. The northern colonies had a rigid protestant beliefs systems that were already established. Eventually by the second half of the nineteenth century with the flooding of immigrants, especially the Irish, Halloween become more popularized.

Interesting fact: Modern day trick or treating stems from the later part of the 19th century. People used to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money.
Halloween Baby Bib from

There was an effort in the late 1800's that tried to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and family get-togethers. The idea behind this was to steer away from the ghosts, witchcraft and pranks that was usually associated with Halloween. This effort was successful because Halloween lost much of its superstitious and religious overtones by 1900. Halloween became a secular holiday and was celebrated by the community by the 1920's and 1930's with parades and community parties. However by 1950, Halloween became a holiday mainly directed towards young children.
Vintage Halloween Haunted House from
Interesting fact: In Guatemala, families celebrate El Día de Los Muertos  (The Day of the Dead), which begins November 1st and ends November 2nd, by spending the day at the cemetery and having picnics. The decorate the graves of their loved ones and bring the deceased members' favorite food and music to share.

Because of the baby boom of that time, Halloween parties moved from the community centers to schools and homes in order to accommodate the larger numbers of children. Trick or treating was also revived and was an inexpensive way to families and neighbors to share in the Halloween celebration. Giving treats was also a way, in theory, to prevent tricks from being play on them.

Interesting fact: It is estimated that 6 billion dollars are spent annually on Halloween treats. This makes Halloween the second largest commercial holiday in America.

Halloween is the holiday of superstitions, magic and mystery. Did you ever wonder why people don't want to cross paths with black cats or why you're not suppose to walk under a ladder? Well these superstitions come from a couple of different viewpoints. First, it was believed that during the Middle Ages, witches avoided detection by turning themselves into cats. (I'm guessing that black hat witches turn into black cats.) 

Witch Earrings from
And second, the 
superstition about walking under a leaning ladder bringing people bad luck, which probably isn't safe anyway, it may have come from the ancient Egyptians. They believed that triangles were sacred, and an opened ladder does form a triangle.

There are some Halloween beliefs that we have forgotten. Many of them dealt with young women getting help to identify their future husbands. They would get reassurance that they would someday be married by the next Halloween if they were lucky.

The history of Halloween is an interesting one. One that started with the Celts over two centuries ago and has evolved into community events, costume parties, and trick or treating around the neighborhood. People wear costumes today, not to ward off spirits, but because it's fun. People look forward to decorating their yards with jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, tombstones and ghoulish spiders. It helps keep the aura of mystery, magic and superstition alive that is associated with the holiday. Furthermore Halloween may be just the right time for young women to find true love, if they're lucky. 
Happy Halloween Card
It seems to me that Halloween is the beginning of a time to celebrate being alive, to remember our loved ones who are deceased and to honor special people who have done extraordinary things. Halloween commemorates the changing season, the fall harvest and the coming of shorter days. So whatever you do this Halloween, may the friendly spirits be with you, and guide you through the coming days ahead. Ah-ha-ha!
Halloween Decor  from
I want to thank all the Etsy shops who gave their consent for me to use their photos for the blog article. So if you're online doing some shopping, don't forget to take a look and see what their shops have to offer. The link to their shop is posted underneath the photo. Also, while your at it, please feel free to visit my Etsy shop at
As I posted earlier, I have been really busy creating some new and interesting holiday clutches for those upcoming special evenings when you don't want to carry your everyday purse or handbag. So why don't you come on over to Etsy and check us out.  

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