History of Halloween
What is the history of Halloween?
Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the US today, but have you ever wondered where it all began and how the tradition of Halloween started? Why is Halloween celebrated on 31st October? Where does the name come from?
Here we hope to provide answers to some of your questions about Halloween and explain the origins of some of the most popular traditions.
Where did the holiday of Halloween originate?
Halloween actually has Celtic origins. The Celts were an ancient people who lived around 2000 years ago in the countries we now call the UK, Ireland and northern France. The Celtic New Year was 1st November, which signified the start of the winter and the end of the summer. The night before, 31st October, was the Celtic festival of the dead, called Samhain, when it was believed ghosts and spirits of the dead came back to earth and helped the Druids (the Celtic priests) make their prophecies for the future. This is where the date of Halloween being celebrated on 31st October comes from.
To celebrate Samhain, the Celtic people dressed up in costumes, to disguise themselves from malevolent beings from the underworld, and burned sacrificial crops and animals on special bonfires lit by the Druids, in attempts to ward off evil spirits. Afterwards, they used the flames from the bonfires to light the fires in their homes.
When the Romans arrived in the Celtic areas, they incorporated some of their traditional festivals with Samhain. One of these Roman festivals was Feralia, which remembered the dead. The other was a celebration of Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees, which may be where the traditional Halloween game of apple bobbing has its origins.
Next the Christians came along and in 837 AD Pope Gregory IV adopted 1st November as All Saints Day, remembering saints and martyrs. This day was also known as All Hallows. Samhain, on 31st October, became known as All Hallows Eve, which is where the word Halloween comes from. The meaning of Halloween translates as All Hallows Eve, or hallowed (holy) evening.
Later, the Christian church designated 2nd November All Souls Day, in memory of the dead. These three dates were collectively known as Hallowmas. The people celebrated by wearing costumes of saints, angels and devils and by having bonfires.
Why do we celebrate Halloween today?
Although it is no longer a religious holiday, people still celebrate Halloween today because the early settlers to America brought their European Halloween customs with them. In colonial times New England was a strict Protestant area, so Halloween wasn’t celebrated widely there. However, there were Halloween festivities in Maryland and the southern colonies, which were combined with autumn harvest festivals, where people had parties and told ghost stories.
When a lot of Irish and Scottish immigrants arrived in America from the mid 1800s onwards, they brought their traditions with them, such as Halloween costumes, jack o lanterns and trick or treating.
By the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, Halloween parties that involved both adults and children, seasonal foods and party games, became common. Halloween became more a community holiday than a religious or superstitious festival. Over the last century Halloween has evolved to become the huge American tradition it is today.
What countries celebrate Halloween?
Halloween is not celebrated in all countries or cultures. The biggest Halloween celebrations are in North America – the United States and Canada. Halloween is also widely celebrated in some other western countries, particularly Ireland and Britain. It has been celebrated in Mexico since around the 1960s, with the American influence combining with the traditional Days of the Dead holiday. In several other countries, such as Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, Halloween has grown in popularity in recent years due to the commercial influence from America.
Why won’t some Christians celebrate Halloween?
Different Christians have very different views about Halloween. Some Christians choose not to celebrate Halloween because they believe it is connected to the occult and has evil, satanic origins. Others reject it because it originates from a pagan festival. However, many Christians see it as a harmless, secular holiday and a fun event for children.
Other Halloween Trivia
What phobia do you suffer from if you have an intense fear of Halloween?
What did you supposedly have to do to meet a witch on Halloween?
It was a popular belief that if you wore your clothes inside out and walked backwards on Halloween you could meet a witch.
Where does trick or treating come from?
The popular Halloween activity of trick or treating probably has its origins in Celtic times, when it was believed that on the festival of Samhain mischievous spirits went from house to house and begged for food, playing tricks on people who didn’t leave food or wine for them.
The Christian church in England tried to replace this ancient pagan belief by beginning All Souls Day parades, encouraging people to give “soul cakes” to the poor if they promised to pray for their dead relatives.
Nowadays candy is given out at Halloween as treats for kids who go door to door in their neighborhood trick or treating.
Why are pumpkins associated with Halloween?
Traditionally in Ireland, Jack o lanterns were carved from turnips, not pumpkins. They were lit with candles or burning coal and placed in windows or porches at Halloween to welcome the spirits of dead loved ones and to protect against evil spirits.
In America, the early Irish settlers began to use pumpkins instead of turnips, as pumpkins were in season in October and would have just been harvested.