Happy Halloween

The Origins of Halloween

Sex Offender Halloween Regulations

The history of Halloween is one that not many people know the full story.  Many do know that it falls on the day before All Saints Day, but not everybody is aware that Christianity shaped Halloween into what it is today.

 

It surprises many people to learn the true origins of some holidays like Christmas and Easter, and if you want those details you can read about them separately.  Yet while the origins may not always be completely understood, it usually does not come as a surprise that the Church did influence some of the traditions related to Easter and Christmas.  Halloween on the other hand is usually not related to having anything to do with the Church.

 

Some may even go so far as to say that they are aware there is a relationship between Halloween and All Saints Day, which is true, but it’s only half of the story and doesn’t cover the beginning whatsoever.  You just may learn some information about All Saints Day itself, in this quest for information related to Halloween.  Halloween is much more than the eve of All Saints Day, which has a history of its own.

 

To trace the true origins of Halloween goes back way before there even was yet a church.  Thousands of years ago, an ancient festival of Samhain holds the roots to Halloween.  It is an old Celtic holiday that most people have never heard of, but what will probably not be a surprise is that it was celebrated on the day that now falls on our calendar as October 31.  It celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, what they considered the darker half of the year.  It fell approximately halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.  It was one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals.  It dates back to pre Christianity and involved the lighting of special bonfires.  The ritual was to ensure that the people and the livestock survived the winter.  Offerings of food and drink were provided and the souls of the dead were thought to revisit at this time.  People would go door to door in costume and recite versus in exchange for food which led to a later medieval custom that eventually developed into modern day trick or treating.

 

This explains some of our Halloween origins but they certainly didn’t start out as what we turned them into in the 1900’s.  As with all pagan holidays they got a makeover in order to become acceptable Christian holidays, and now we are talking about not Halloween, but the origins of All Saints Day.  It started out not only under a different name, but also on a different date than the November 1 date we are accustomed to today.

 

Originally Lemuria was a day celebrated on May 13 and it was a pagan, not a Christian holiday.  This time it was a Roman pagan festival not a Celtic one, but pagan nonetheless.  It was by no means the same festival as Samhain.  Rather than a celebration of the end of harvest season it was a celebration of the dead.  It was the spookiest of all festivals related to the dead.  Although Samhain and Lemuria both had similarities, Leumria was a much more positive celebration of the dead, even though Samhain had a few traits of the dead revisiting at the time.  Eventually Leumria was Christianized in 609 AD and it became All Saints Day, but it was still celebrated May 13.

 

Eventually came phase two.  While All Saints Day had stamped out the pagan festival of Lemuria it hadn’t stamped out Samhain.  In order to stamp out the pagan holiday of Samhain, All Saints Day was moved from May 13 to November 1.  All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows Day, making October 31 All Hallows Eve, and gradually All Hallows Eve stamped out the pagan holiday of Samhain, which is exactly what the church wanted.  When Christians wanted a holiday for the dead, even if they weren’t sanctioned as saints, November 2 became All Souls Day.  Now you had three church approved holidays, All Hallows Eve on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2.  Over time All Hallows Eve became simply Hallows Eve and finally Halloween.  The accumulation of all three days has been referred to as Halloweenmas, similar to how an accumulation of other holidays became Christmas.

 

While that explains the dates, it doesn’t explain all the customs.  Trick or Treating, Jack O Lanterns, masks and costumes and all the figures we relate to Halloween, such as witches, ghosts and goblins, all took on a very gradual transformation over time, but like with most of our current holiday customs, most of our current traditions aren’t nearly as old as people think.

 

While the idea of knocking on doors in costume in exchange for food dates back to ancient times, modern trick or treating probably isn’t even 100 years old.  There is no doubt the most ancient of its origins go back to when offerings were made for the dead but the most radical transformation of all can once again be at least somewhat credited to the church.  When the church explained the idea of purgatory, the in between place of heaven and hell, it was also taught by the church that it was possible to pray for the souls trapped in purgatory, and they would be released to heaven.  So it made perfect sense for beggars to offer these prayers for the dead on All Souls Day in exchange for treats.

 

That’s exactly what happened in medieval times.  Children would go souling which meant that on All Souls Day they would knock on doors and offer to pray for the dead of the persons answering the door.  In exchange for their souling, their treat would be soul cakes, spiced cakes filled with raisons.  While this isn’t exactly what we consider trick or treating today, it strikes remarkable resemblance.

 

Another aspect of Halloween can be attributed to what we know from history, but don’t always relate to Halloween, the treatment of who were deemed to be witches.  While Halloween is no doubt today associated with many other characters such as goblins and ghosts, no other one originated from what was such a realistic type of person as witches, because back during the witch trials, the possibility of somebody being a witch seemed a very real possibility.  This was before we’d assigned some of today’s more mystical powers associated with witches.

 

In the start, people being accused of being witches were probably no more than healers.  Some sort of healing medicine they’d usually created under very mortal circumstances led to the belief that they possessed magical powers and were therefore associated with evil.  Since they were almost always female, it made perfect sense to associate them with household items commonly used by women in medieval times.  That’s how an item as mundane as a broom became a symbol of witchcraft.  A cauldron, which in its time was simply another common household item became another.  Today we don’t even associate a cauldron as anything except belonging to a witch.  A witch’s hat started as something worn by many females, your typical countrywoman’s hat which was pointed long before anybody ever associated a witch with requiring a pointed hat.  Then was one of the most common household pets, a cat.  You could be accused of being a witch by doing nothing worse than owning a broom, a cauldron, a hat and having a pet cat.  Since you were already under suspicion, producing any kind of medical remedy only increased your chances of an accusation involving evil witchcraft.  During this time, witches were not yet associated with Halloween, but the idea of what a witch was, certainly was being defined.

 

Masks also started becoming associated with Halloween for a dark reason.  For a holiday commissioned by the church some aspects of the holiday were being taken in a direction that the church would have no doubt not approved of.  While the intentions of souling started pure, this ritual of begging for a reward on All Souls Day became rowdy, destructive and even threatening.  These beggars often consumed large quantities of alcohol making them less timid and more demanding.  Masks could conceal their identities.

 

On November 5, 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up London’s House of Lords with 36 kegs of gunpowder.  The plot failed but every following November 5, the children of London mocked Fawkes failed attempt by causing chaos in the streets.  The day is still known and remembered in England.  Since the date falls so close to Halloween, much of the energy shifted from Halloween to Guy Fawkes Day.

 

Ghosts soon entered into our association with Halloween, and although the ancient customs had always started as a celebration of the dead, it didn’t start specifically as the figure of what we think of as a ghost today.  The volume of death in the Civil War made America obsessed with the dead, mostly because so many of the dead were unidentifiable.  Ghost stores became much more common than before.  Ghost stories became people returning from the dead.  Ghosts became more terrifying.  What started in ancient customs as a peaceful visit from the dead now became a haunting.

 

The tradition of Jack O Lanterns actually started in England but not as what it eventually became.  Jack O Lantern is the name of a legendary man.  He’s not a real man, but he has a famous mythical history.  According to his legend Jack O Lantern was so bad, that he not only went to hell, but he was even banished from hell.  When he returned to earth he placed the ambers from hell in the very first Jack O Lantern but it wasn’t yet a pumpkin, it started out a turnip.  The mythical story of his ambers from hell in a turnip led to why we light a Jack O Lantern.  Once the migration to the New World occurred, it was far more practical to use pumpkins instead of turnips.  So while a pumpkin is a very American Halloween tradition, the origins come from England and a turnip.

 

It is a combination of all these rituals and all these somewhat related dates that many Old World ideas of Halloween were merged into very American ones.  It wasn’t until the 1900’s that all of these ideas began to meld into one.  Artist’s depictions of Halloween began to depict all these individual ideas into one.  Jack O Lanterns were the signature trademark of the holiday, but combined with witches, ghosts, & masks eventually many ideas over different dates became one ritual on one date.  The only problem was that one of those rituals that remained was pranks.  The theme may have been set up intending fun, but the result was that the holiday was causing more harm than good. What started as harmless pranks turned into more violent ones.  Smashing Jack O Lanterns turned into throwing stones at windows, destructing property and even starting fires.  If Halloween were to survive, it would have to be toned down.

 

In a massive attempt to tame Halloween, many changes were made.  Cities began to promote costume parties and parades in an attempt to give more productive forms of entertainment.  Retailing began including the biggest seller, the costume.  Sears began to sell the first costumes around 1930.  The idea was working, but the real change that had to be made was for what the most popular tradition had become; knocking on doors for treats.  Something had to done to better reward these modern day beggars in order to avoid them from committing pranks they were accustomed to.

 

The phrase Trick or Treat does not go back nearly as far as most people think.  The custom may have started from traditions centuries earlier, but the first reference to Trick or Treat in writing isn’t found until 1939.  Homeowners began to bribe children, first with homemade treats such as popcorn balls or candy apples, but eventually this turned into the much easier store bought candies.  Trick or Treat is actually a much camouflaged threat to demand candy in order to avoid a prank.  Today it’s simply seen as a cute custom but it’s a bit shocking to learn how it actually started.

 

Once Halloween had been appropriately tamed, Hollywood could embrace it.  That includes TV and no television show changed our conception of Halloween as much as; It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  Certainly our traditions had already existed, but television stamped its approval on the holiday just as the church had done earlier.  Eventually it developed into a holiday just as much for adults as children.  That transformation probably began with the 1978 film titled Halloween.  Though the film is over 30 years old, its main character Michael Myers remains a popular costume used each year.  Haunted Houses, sometimes far too scary for small children, became a staple.  Masks and costumes of all types were reformed from paper costumes that were originally only for kids, to fully fledged costumes worn by adults as well.  But all these transformations are only about 30 years old, our acceptance of what Halloween means today is only about 50 years old, and the idea of modern day trick or treating is only about 70 years old.

Contrary to popular belief there are really very few if any sex offender regulations related to Halloween, unless the offender is still on probation or parole.

 

While it is certainly not a good idea for any sex offender to be involved in activity related to children, such as passing out candy to trick or treaters, unless there is a stipulation in a court order specifically forbidding the offender from having unsupervised contact with minors, no law is being broken by handing out candy to children.

 

For those sex offenders who are on probation or parole, there may very well be a condition to have no contact with minors.  While that certainly is applicable on Halloween it’s just as applicable any day of the year. 

 

So while everybody assumes that sex offenders on Halloween must be home earlier than usual, houses can’t be decorated and other similar theories are perceived, the reality is that it almost always is nothing that can be enforced for any sex offender not under supervision, unless a very specific local ordinance has been written in your area.

 

Nonetheless, although legal, it’s probably never a good idea for a sex offender to encourage a child to visit their home, even when there is no supervision that makes such activity against the law.  Concerned parents and citizens can easily determine who is a sex offender and when suspicious activity is observed, it’s highly likely they would report it to authorities and it would be investigated.  While the investigation may conclude no illegal activity occurred there is just no good reason to bring attention to a sex offender.

 

For those who are on probation or parole it can be a bit stricter, but there is still very little Halloween activity that can get supervised offenders in any trouble that isn’t just as applicable day other day of the year. 

 

The rules of sex offenders not decorating, lights on the porch must be off and being home earlier than normal are certainly published in many areas, and absolutely applicable to those on probation or parole.  However these are more of red flags to officials who would really be looking at an offender’s direct involvement with minors more than the decorations or where an offender just may be if he or she is not home in the evening buy hasn’t yet broken any curfew.

 

Most sex offenders have a curfew, but technically that curfew is no different on Halloween than on any other night of the year.  While it certainly would not be a good idea to pick this night over all other nights to be out and about for no good reason that’s really a rule to abide by every night while a curfew is in effect.  If you do have legitimate business, such as work or any other normal regular activity in compliance with probation and parole terms, an offender has every right to be out so long as the curfew is met.  Of course demanding that you are aware of this is never a good idea, just know it and respectfully inform an officer of the specifics if there are any concerns.

 

Nobody is suggesting that sex offenders should encourage any activity related to children.  Even the purest of motives could lead into a situation that will not be worth it, just to prove a point.  But the rumors of what a sex offender can or can’t do on Halloween legally are a bigger myth than the myth of Jack Lantern.  We do not recommend activities that involve decorating, passing out candy; nor is alcohol encouraged and certainly no illegal drugs. You can however have a Halloween celebration that is fun and harmless, and enjoy the holiday as much as possible.     

 

Have a safe and happy Halloween! 

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