When October comes around again, we think of delicious candy, eerie haunted houses, lifeless ghosts, black cats and the one night out of the year to dress up in any imaginable costume to go trick-or-treating. We welcome the October month including the big night of Halloween with silly and scary traditions and activities. The whole idea of decorating your front yard with ghosts and goblins, dressing up in a costume to go out on Halloween night to collect candy from neighbors or to enjoy the night at a Halloween party and carving out pumpkins to create jack-o-lanterns has become our way of celebrating Halloween. However, did you ever stop to think about where it originated from and how? Halloween is so much more than we know or think. It is actually filled with an interesting and surprising history. Let us go back in history and take a look at how it all began and how it has evolved to what it is today.
History of Halloween
Did you know that Halloween did not start in the United States? The ancient origins of Halloween actually started about 2000 years ago in territories that are today Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. It came from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a time that the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season. Samhain comes from the Gaelic meaning “summer's end” and was celebrated on November 1st to say “farewell” to summer and to welcome winter. Since winter marked the onset of a cold, depressing and dark time, the Celts related this time of the year with death.
According to the Celts´ religious rituals, they provided offerings of food and other items to gratify dead spirits, and disguised themselves with costumes and masks to blend in with the wandering spirits. You see, they believed that the dead came back as spirits on October 31st, the night before Samhain.
Since there was a shortage of crops due to the season of winter, the Celts turned to Celtic priests or Druids for guidance and protection. They believed that among the presence of spirits, the Druids were able to predict the future and therefore, their prophecies brought comfort and reassurance during the long, cold winter.
The Celts would wear animal skins and heads throughout this celebration and told each other´s fortunes. They would also sacrifice their animals and crops to the Celtic gods by burning them in huge sacred bonfires that the Druids built. Afterwards, they would burn out these bonfires earlier in the evening but once the celebration came to an end, they would ignite their bonfires again which symbolized everlasting protection throughout the winter.
Around 43 AD, most of Celtic territory was taken over by Romans and they ruled these areas for about four hundred years. During their time, they held two celebrations: Feralia and the day to honor Pomona. Feralia, which was celebrated later on in the month of October, honored the passing of the dead, similar to the Celtic festival. They also set a day aside in honor of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and trees. In particular, the apple is the symbol of Pomona and supposedly, this was where bobbing for apples came from.
Fastforwarding to the 8th century, there was an increase of Christianity influence. The Christian church referred Samhain as “All Saint's Day”, also known as “All Hallows” or “All-hallowmas” which made the night before it “Hallows Eve”. Similar to the tradition of Samhain, people would dress up as angels, saints and devils. There were also bonfires and parades. Over time, it was changed to what we know it as Halloween.
What about trick-or-treating? Well, trick-or-treating came from “souling and guising.” During medieval European times, on Halloween, children would go around in costumes and ask for money, food and wine and in return, they would sing, recite a poem or tell a joke. This was known as “guising” which was the same as asking if somebody wanted a “trick”. Similarly, “treating” comes from All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead, which was celebrated on November 2nd. On this day, deprived individuals would go around and beg for soul cakes which were pastries. If they were generously given these pastries, in exchange, they would pray for their dead relatives. This was known as “souling” which is equivalent to “treating” when we go door to door asking for candy. When we go trick-or-treating, we sing the familiar trick-or-treat short rhyming song in exchange for candy.
Thanks to the Irish and Scottish immigrants, we celebrate this kid-friendly Halloween with family, friends and neighbors. At first, the Protestants, who lived in the northern colonies at that time, focused on work only and followed strict beliefs, and as a result, Halloween was not a common, popular holiday. Nevertheless, when the Irish and Scottish immigrants settled in the United States, they introduced their own traditions and soon enough, Halloween became a practiced holiday. And it makes sense since they are the descendants of the Celts, who began the festivities with the ancient Celtic festival. Now, from the time of the 1950s, U.S. Americans have dedicated this day, October 31st, to Halloween. However, Halloween is not just an American holiday; it is now a world-wide holiday and has been for many years!
Welcome October and Happy Halloween to everyone!
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