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“Hallowe’en” Traditions: Sexy, Spooky, Saintly, Satanic

October 30, 2009

Something to remember, as you don your Bernie Madoff mask or Sexy Devil costume tomorrow night, is that Halloween once was truly spooky, courtesy of the Catholic Church. Individual saints’ days (including those in honor of Valentine and Patrick, so familiar in the U.S.) have been a feature of Christianity since early times. The major sects later established observances for all the saints, or “hallows,” as godly people were called.

In the 9th century, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Church moved the holiday from May to November 1,

considered the end of the summer period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was also a time when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits …

Masks and costumes may have been a way of disguising oneself from those spirits, as well as heightening the pastoral revelry that took place on the preceeding night, known as “All Hallows eve,” “All Hallows e’en” or, eventually, “Hallowe’en.”

The celebration’s outlines actually date back almost a millennium further, according to iWalkDevon, to the Gaelic festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” “Faced with roughly four, frozen months sans thermals; wouldn’t you be tempted to celebrate – and strive to recreate – the miracle of survival?” Alex Radway asks. “This was a night of prophecy and divination.”

Moving forward, by the mid-1700s, All Saints and other festival days provided an occasion for intercourse not so much with spirits as with randy neighbors (proving sexy devils have been around longer than you thought).  On a typical fair or festival day, “every feast ended in dancing and drinking, and many young couples crept behind hedges,” writes Kate Williams in England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton. “[T]he records show most women fell pregnant on a holiday.”

Trick, or treat?

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