The Middle Ages is usually defined as the 1000 year period between the fall of the Last Roman emperor in the West (around 476 A.D) and the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453), or even as late as the discovery of America in 1492.
Early in the Fourth century, the pagan emperor of Rome named Constantine claimed to have had a vision of Christ on a battlefield and immediately converted to Christianity, naming it the religion of the state, and thus paving the way for the religion to spread. In 325 A.D., Constantine inspired missionaries to convert thousands of Pagans across Europe. At this time, the Christians formed only a small portion of the population.
During this early time, the success of Christianity was mixed and many people continued to observe pagan traditions. The church leaders realized that the roots of pagan traditions were very deep with the people and that they needed to find a way to sanction new followers. Pagans were not fond of the idea that you had to wait till the next life to lead a good life. The church desperately wanted to find a way to make Christianity more appealing. They knew they’d have an easier time converting pagans if they incorporated existing holy days and traditions into their own, by giving them a Christian twist and sanctifying them. Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints’ Day on May 13, 610. This day was to honor all saints that did not have a day of their own. It was an attempt to replace the pagan festivals of the dead and coincidentally it coincided with the Roman festival Feralia.
The church then decided to take an aggressive approach. In the early 800′s Pope Gregory III revised the festival to honor St. Peter’s Church saints and changed the date to November 1st to directly coincide with the Samhain festival. In 834 Pope Gregory IV made the festival of All Saints’ Day official, intending it to be observed by all churches. It also became known as All Hallow’s Day. Despite the church’s best efforts, people still celebrated festivities the evening before, making October 31st All Hallow’s Evening, which later became Halloween and designated the day of October 31st as the official holiday. (It should be noted that in this instance, the word Hallow is equivalent to the word Saint.)
Around 1000 A.D, Pope Sylvester II approved November 2nd as All Souls’ Day, an annual feast held to honor all the dead that had died within the last year. It became established throughout Europe from the 11th through 14th centuries. The eve of All Saints Day’, All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day’, were together called Hallowmas. Again, the church is merely grafting onto already established practices, changing the name, moving the dates and twisting them to meet the church’s agenda.
The church continued to encourage new ways such as honoring the dead through prayer and not animal sacrifice. Also encouraged was the replacement of feasts of food and wine with the practice of offering “soul cakes”. These were given to the village poor who would in turn offer prayers for the dead. The peasants would often go door to door, singing and caroling “souling songs”, becoming known as “soulers”. The soulers were often young men and boys, disguised in costumes of skeletons and ghosts. The church insisted that these costumes were worn as a means of honoring the dead saints, not worn to thwart and scare off evil ghosts and spirits. People who were afraid of the dead were encouraged to give generously, and usually did. However, some would not, often leading to vandalism and malicious pranks, such as breaking windows and outhouse overturning. These pranks would often be blamed on angry spirits. Today, we call this practice of visiting homes for treats “Trick-or-Treating”, and it is most commonly practiced by boys and girls in North America.
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