who the heck knows anything, anyway

Friday, October 12, 2012

Halloween: Where the heck did it come from?

I made a crazy discovery today. Pre-note: this is not really the most academic post, so don't go citing me or yelling at me for not being scholarly.

It's popular to claim that most holidays we celebrate now are appropriated pagan celebrations. But Halloween is super interesting in this sense. Our first impulse is to claim that Halloween--All Hallow's Eve (the night before All Saints' Day, which is the day before All Souls' Day)--was purposefully placed on October 31/November 1 because that's when Samhain took place. Only, wait a minute! The Roman Catholic Church and the Irish Catholic Church were very different establishments back in the day. The Irish Catholic Church--the establishment you might assume would do the appropriating--celebrated All Saints' Day on April 20. So it's pretty much accidental that the two became related. Doesn't that BLOW YOUR MIND?

Dia de los Muertos was more intentionally moved--it's related to an Aztec celebration that occurred in August (for the whole month). The Spanish Catholics, known for being a bit, ah, zealous, pushed the celebration to All Souls' Day.

Ironically, the Irish and Scots are the ones who we can thank for bringing Halloween to the US. The English were bigger fans of Guy Fawkes day, so Halloween didn't get to the US until the mass Irish immigration in the 19th century. Obviously, being the best holiday, the traditions spread, and that's why we get to celebrate the best day ever. Although, thanks to globalization, if we hadn't gotten it then, we'd probably have gotten it via Dia de los Muertos. Yay! Holiday celebrations! And now you know.

Although you know what? This brings up some other questions: first, how can people actually think they know anything about history, ever? It's awful. I'm reading this book that is otherwise brilliant, but it claims that the Church in Ireland very intentionally appropriated Samhain. As we can see, that's (likely) not correct, but the only way you could know that without the internet in the 1980s is if you actively pursued medieval Church history in addition to your studies of pre-Christian Irish mythology. That's kind of an impractical expectation. And these are scholars! So, it's awesome that we have the internet now, but here's the terrible effect of that oversight: now I'm skeptical of the whole book. What conclusions are being presented as fact but, in fact, are not? This is an issue I come up against regularly, and it's why I can't wait for the transhumanists to partner with private industry to make a chip for my brain that allows me to learn every language. When I can read primary sources all day long, I will be a happy camper. Though, even then, you're reading one person's perspective on a fact. I suppose the only way to make any semi-solid conclusions is to read a bunch of primary sources, compare them, and assume that the things they have in common are the ones most likely to bear weight. History, man! It's totally confusing!

Now that I've said all this, please know that this is not a paper that's going into a journal. This is me writing a blog post, after researching for about an hour on the internet, and using primarily, yes, Wikipedia. So take all this with a grain of salt, but also know that Wikipedia is awesome, and I would never repeat dubious material without pursuing it fully and honestly. Plus, this way, you can just google "wiki samhain," "wiki halloween," "wiki dia de los muertos," and "wiki all saints' day" and get all the same info, only in a more long-winded and less enthusiastic format. :) Knowledge for free is The Best.