The History & Traditions of Halloween
The history of Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in the area that’s now Ireland, UK, and northern France. They celebrated their New Year on November 1st and this day marked the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark and cold winter to come. At the time this period was also thought to be associated with human death.
Celts believed that the night before their new year there was a blurring between the worlds of the living and the dead, so they celebrated Samhain, a time they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. It was believed that the devils caused trouble and damaged the crops and the Celts had a belief that the presence of the spirits coming through helped the Druids and Celtic priests to predict the future. This was an age of superstition and hardship for folks and they relied on the comforting thoughts of the prophecies to help them through the dark winter days.
The Druids celebrated the event by building hugh bonfires and the people gathered to burn sacrifices of crops and animals to the Celtic gods. As the fires burned, the Celts dressed in celebratory costumes, usually of animal heads and skins and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. After the celebrations, they re-lit their home fires, which they had ceremoniously extinguished earlier, from the sacred bonfires, as they believed that this would now help to protect them during the coming winter months!
By the year 43 AD, the majority of the Celtic territory had been conquered by the Roman Empire. The Romans ruled their lands for over 400 years and during that time 2 festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, celebrated in late October to commemorate the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor the Roman goddess of trees and fruits, Pomona. The apple is the symbol of Pomona and it is thought that the combination of this incorporated with the Samhain celebration may have been what led to the tradition of the apple bobbing for apples, that is practiced on Halloween to this day!
All Saints Day stems from 609 AD and the merging of dedications to all Christian martyrs and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day. Pope Gregory 3rd later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs and moved the celebration date to November 1st. By the 9th century, Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands and in 1000 AD the church made November 2nd All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. The day was also celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes to represent saints, angels, and devils.
America first embraced the celebration of Halloween in a big way due to the combination of all the different cultures blending together as the country opened up to immigration from all countries, with each bringing their own traditions and beliefs. The Colonial Halloween festivals included the telling of ghost stories and general mischief-making, to emulate the actions of the devils. The second half of the 19th century saw the flooding of America with new immigrants and this pushed forward the Halloween traditions and popularised it.
Trick-or-Treating began around this time in America, with those in costume going from house to house asking for money or food and evolved into the trick-or-treat tradition. We know today. It was also believed that young women could divine the name or appearance of a future husband with tricks using yarns, apples, and mirrors. Soon the traditions of dressing up and celebrating the day became part of the American culture and today it is still big business.
Halloween is a big money-making business, with millions being made from costumes, foods, treats, movies, books an so on. But for most youngsters, all that counts for them is the fun they will have!