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Halloween: What's it All About, Anyway?

Halloween itself is wearing a mask, because it's actually an ancient year-end spiritual ritual in disguise.

Sociologist Charles Emmons says, "Halloween has gone through two major transformations since its beginning at least 3,000 years ago as an ancient European folk festival to a Christian folk festival and now a modern, pop culture holiday." Prior to changes in our modern calendar, Halloween took place at the end of the year in conjunction with the winter solstice. In the evening, people would light bonfires and set out food to welcome back the spirits of the beloved dead and dress up as ghosts and goblins to scare away unwanted spirits.

These days, Halloween is all about good scary fun, but people have been thrilling to spooky tales as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. Classics professor Debbie Felton says, "Ghost stories have been popular for thousands of years, and there are many reasons why people enjoy them and enjoy being scared by them?but, more essentially, ghost stories ultimately reflect religious beliefs concerning the importance of a proper burial and the survival of the spirit after death. The dead have a need to rest in peace, while the living have a need to believe in an afterlife; who really wants to think about eternal non-existence? And the humor in a lot of ghost stories is a good way to deal with the disturbing reality of death.

"For example, the Roman author Pliny the Younger, in a letter to a friend of his that has survived the centuries, tells a wonderful little ghost story about a haunted house in Athens. It?s a [typical] haunted house story: the horrific ghost of an old man scares everyone away, the house is deserted and falling into disrepair. Finally a brave man comes along who dares to spend the night in the house. He is not afraid of the ghost, and instead realizes the phantom wants to communicate. He follows the ghost to a spot where it disappears; he digs up the spot, finds bones, buries them with the proper rituals, and the ghost never appears again."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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