Origins | Fall 2013

Page 6

A n A n c e s t r a l C e le b r a t i o n

H a l lo w e e n Margaret Smith

The ancient holiday and customs of Halloween have changed in many ways over the centuries, but before these occurred the Celts celebrated this time in their own way. The Celts celebrated this festival as the beginning of the New Year on November first and called it Samhain. Representing the end of the harvest and the beginning of the cold and harsh winter, they considered this time to have many ties with the dead because the eve of the new year was the day they believed the veil between the world of the dead was thinned and those who had passed away could return to earth. During the festivities Druids built large sacred bonfires where they burned crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. The Celts would dress up in costumes of animal hides in order to hide from unwanted ghosts or other spirits. For friendly spirits or dead relatives the Celts would set places at the dinner table and leave treats on their door steps. In order to help guide these spirits back to their homes and to the spirit world the Celts would light their way with candles. These customs have similar characteristics with a Japanese festival called Bon Odori. During the summer months, the exact date varies among different regions; ancient Japanese celebrated the return of their ancestors from the spirit world. They would light their way from the mountains, they believe this is where their ancestors’ spirits and gods dwell, to the villages. Then the Japanese would set places at their tables and present their ancestors with a meal. Also during this festival they would set bonfires and offerings for their ancestors and while they were lit say prayers or sutras to honor their dead relatives. In addition the Japanese would do this for unrelated spirits because they believed if any spirit with unresolved issues i.e. died violently, have negligent relatives, or have no living relatives they would haunt any person who crosses their path. So many families would offer sutras and food in order to correct any imbalance a wandering spirit might have. Halloween and the festival of Bon have many similarities in their origins which is surprising considering the great distance between the cultures the originated from. The time of the year although different does not detract from the purpose the festivals set out to. They both set out to honor dead relatives while also having similar ritual activities. Could this be a coincidence, evidence of similar ancestors, or just a similarity in belief systems?

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