What are the Origins of Halloween?
Halloween started over two thousand years ago with the Celts when they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in). They lived in the region that now covers the UK, North of France and Ireland.
They celebrated their New Year on the 1st of November, which was the beginning of the winter. They associated the start of winter with death since they believed that during this time the boundary that exists between the spirit and human worlds becomes weak. They celebrated Samhain on the 31st of October, which was when they believed the ghosts came back to the world through this boundary.
During the celebration, they started large fires where the people sacrificed animals and crops to their gods. They wore animal hide costumes and predicted their futures. Once the festival was done, they took fire from the sacred fires to light their hearths so that they would be protected during the winter.
When the Roman Empire had conquered a large part of the Celtic region by 43 AD, they combined two Roman celebrations with that of Samhain. This continued throughout the 400 years that they ruled their land.
One of the Roman festivals was Feralia, which was celebrated late in October when they observed the passing of the dead into the spirit world. The other was in honour of the Roman goddess Pomona who was the goddess of flora, fruit, and trees.
An apple symbolized Pomona, and since the celebration was combined with Samhain, it shows why people still practice ‘bobbing' apples during Halloween.
The Day to Celebrate All Saints
Pope Boniface IV set aside the Pantheon on 13th May to celebrate all the martyrs. The celebration of All Saints was then started in the western church. Later, Pope Gregory III made the festival not only to include saints but martyrs too. The celebration was moved from May to the 1st of November.
Christianity gradually spread in the 9th century to the Celtic region, and it became combined with some of their traditions. The church set aside the 2nd of November to celebrate the dead, and named it All Soul’s Day in 1000 AD. People today believe that the move was made to replace the Samhain celebration.
The new church celebration was also known as All-Hallowmas or All-Hallows. It was marked in a similar way to Samhain since they still lit the huge fires and dressed up in costumes. However, they did away with the hides and instead dressed as devils or angels. The previous night of Samhain started to be referred to as Al-Hallows Eve then, later, it became Halloween.
Introduction of Halloween to America
There was an interaction of the beliefs of European groups and Americans hence breeding a new type of Halloween celebration. The initial Halloween involved games and public gatherings that celebrated a good harvest. People would tell one another stories of the departed while singing, dancing and telling fortunes. They told ghost stories and played pranks on one another.
Even by the 19th century, Halloween was not celebrated everywhere, but after the middle of the century, immigrants started coming into the country from Europe and popularized the celebration. This was when the festival became celebrated countrywide.
Beginning of Trick or Treat
The practice of trick or treating started during the All Soul's Celebration where the poor would ask for food, and they would be given ‘soul cake.' The agreement was that after they had been given food, they would go ahead and pray for the relatives of the families who were departed.
Due to the immigrants in the country, the Americans started dressing up and moving from house to house---requesting food or money, hence ‘trick or treat.’ Young, unmarried women believed that they could come up with the looks of or even name of their future husband through some of the practices involving mirrors, yarn, and apples.
In the late 1800s, people tried to make the celebration more about the community than about ghosts and tricks. In the 20th century, Halloween became more about parties for both children and adults that were based on food, games, and costumes.
People were encouraged to take any scary aspect of Halloween out of the celebrations. Anything involving ghosts and scary stories was discouraged. This was widely accepted, and as a result, most of the superstitions and practices that formed Halloween were lost.
Parties Celebrating Halloween
By around 1930, Halloween had become less about the church and more based around the community. There were community-based parades and parties and since these attracted a lot of people, vandalism became very common.
In the 1950s, communities came up with ways to reduce the vandalism and the celebration became more focused on children. Trick or treat was started once more as it was an easy way to involve the whole community in the party. People avoided being tricked by giving gifts to children in the neighbourhood.
People started wearing Halloween costumes in the belief that if they went out on that night, they would meet ghosts. The costumes were so that the ghosts would not recognize them as humans. They also placed food outside their houses to honour the spirits and so that they would not enter their homes.
It is estimated that Americans spend over six billion dollars per year on Halloween celebrations. It is the second most profitable holiday after Christmas. It’s almost become a reason for people to wine, dine and party. And for those that like to keep things homely, Halloween decorations, including string lights, spooky party backdrops, creepy spider waves, Halloween lights and balloons are smart choices for house parties or Halloween yard parties.
Some of you may want to top it up with a Halloween statue as well. It’s all fun and trust me it’s worth it.