What is the real history of Halloween?
Squashes and pumpkins, black cats, broomsticks – Halloween have a lot of popular associations that have little to do with its origins.
The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The original Halloween was celebrated on Oct. 31, but it is now observed on the last Friday or Saturday of October as Halloween parties and trick-or-treating have become popular.
The origins of Halloween
All Hallows’ Eve, now Halloween, began with the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. According to custom, at dusk on Oct. 31 they extinguished all hearth fires and moved around their villages in total darkness. People believed that the souls of the dead came back in this long night, walking abroad seeking warmth and companionship.
It was also a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Celtic priests, or Druids, lit great bonfires that frightened away evil spirits and allowed remote villagers to keep watch together. At the end of this festival of souls, on Nov. 1, all fires were re-lit from a central sacred flame kept burning in Druid temples or household shrines.
In the ninth century, Pope Gregory III designated Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; it is now All Saints’ Day in the Roman Catholic Church. In later years, Halloween lost its religious significance, but many customs remained – some from Samhain and others from other sources.
In A History of Halloween, author David J. Skal writes that Halloween dates back about 2,000 years ago to the Druids in Ireland. The Celts are believed to have gotten the idea of Halloween from watching how Roman invaders handled their conquered territories – they would set up huge bonfires on hilltops or outside towns and then leave them burning long into the night. The Druids and the Celts believed that these fires frightened off evil spirits, much like Halloween decorations now are meant to do.
Charles L. Weiser, author of Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, has a slightly different take on Halloween’s origins. He says Halloween originally started as the ancient festivals of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. The Celts would light bonfires to scare away harmful spirits. Druids would sacrifice animals, crops, and even humans in the hope that doing so would please Samhain also referred to as “lord of death.”
The tradition of Halloween costumes started with the belief that during this time spirits roamed freely and it was believed to be the only time spirits could affect something in the physical world. Halloween costumes were carved or made out of available materials such as rags and wood and often depicted scary creatures like witches, demons, and goblins.
Halloween customs in England
In Old English Halloween was called “healing-monads,” or holy month, referring to the Halloween bonfires. The Church had declared Nov. 1 All Saints’ Day, on which day everyone was supposed to go to Mass and remember the dead who were in Heaven with God. A popular Halloween custom of this time was to make soul cakes, or “healing-mos,” which were made from eggs, flour, and honey and were meant to feed the souls of dead children.
In Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, author Lesley Bannatyne writes that Halloween was not practiced in England until the mid-1800s. People celebrated Halloween as a fun holiday, dressing in costumes and playing pranks on one another. It wasn’t until the 1900s that Halloween was celebrated in the United States with the same Halloween customs of England, including carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating.
Halloween customs in America
Originally Halloween was not celebrated in America because it was considered a “pagan” holiday. The New England colonists did not celebrate Halloween because they thought it was wrong to do so. Halloween wasn’t celebrated in America until the 19th century.
Once Halloween became an acceptable holiday, cities began creating Halloween traditions that are still observed today, including carving jack-o-lanterns and lighting bonfires. Halloween once again became a time for mischief as well, usually in the form of pranks played on neighbors or classmates.
Trick-or-treating has been a Halloween custom for many years. In Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, author Lesley Bannatyne says that, although parents and other authority figures encouraged children to play tricks on Halloween as early as the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 1930s that children began going door-to-door requesting treats such as apples or nuts. Halloween historian David J. Skal writes in Halloween:
An American Holiday, An American History that it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that trick-or-treating became a Halloween tradition for most children and families. Trick-or-treating is now a Halloween custom for both children and adults. Parents often take their children trick-or-treating or kids go out with friends. Halloween has evolved from being simply a time to avoid evil spirits, to include dressing up in costumes, carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, and enjoying Halloween customs that are many centuries old.
What is Halloween?
Halloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31, most commonly recognized as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween evolved from two ancient Celtic festivals: Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. It originated in Ireland in the late fifth century when Christianity spread throughout the country, gradually converting the people away from their pagan religions. Halloween is a popular tradition in many countries around the world, where people gather in costume to celebrate the day with parties and tricks and treats.
How did Halloween start?
The history of Halloween dates back to 709 A.D. when Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. Halloween wasn’t celebrated in America until the 19th century when Irish immigrants brought their Halloween customs with them.