Halloween is an excuse to dress up in ridiculous costumes and eat a years’ worth of candy in one night. It is a time to celebrate the unknown and gather in large groups to perpetuate traditions that have been evolving for hundreds of years.
According to History.com, the history of Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain was the end of summer celebration of the Celtic New Year on November 1. The Celts celebrated the harvest and the beginning of winter, which they associated with darkness and death.
The Celts believed the night before their new year allowed the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead to become undefined. This allowed the ghosts of the dead to return to earth to cause trouble and damage to crops.
To celebrate, the Celts built sacred bonfires and burned crops and animals in sacrifice to their gods.
In 43 A.D., the Romans took over the Celtic lands and made two holidays out of Samhain. The first was Feralia, which celebrated the passing of the dead and was celebrated in late October. The second holiday was Pomona, a day in which to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
The symbol for Pomona was the apple, which lent itself to the tradition of bobbing for apples.
In the 800s, the Christians took over the lands and tried to influence the area and their traditions by ridding the people of their Samhain tradition. Pope Boniface IV made the ceremony a church sanctioned holiday, and ended up incorporating the Celtic traditions with his own. November 1 became All Saints Day to honor saints and martyrs.
This day was called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas. According to Thehalloweenspot.com, “hallow” in old English meant “to sanctify.” The date was originally moved to May 13, but was changed by Gregory III to November 1 again.
The night of Samhain was then called All-Hallowmas Eve and eventually evolved into Halloween.
The tradition of costume wearing came from the Celts, who wore costumes with animal heads and skins at the burning ceremony of Samhain. However, this is not the only origin of wearing costumes on Halloween.
They also dressed up if they left the house at night to avoid detection by wicked spirits. In 1000 A.D., the day was made to honor the dead, where they used big bonfires like in the days of old, held parades, and dressed up like devils, angels, and saints.
On All Souls Day in England, poor people went around asking for food, and were often given “soul cakes” in return for their prayers for that family’s dead relatives. Children picked up on this idea and were given ale, food, or money.
In the colonial era, celebration of Halloween was restricted in the northern colonies due to influence of the Puritans. However, as immigrants crossed the ocean to America, they still brought their Halloween traditions with them. In the southern colonies, it was more popularly celebrated because of the lack of Puritan presence.
The first colonial celebrations were public events to celebrate the harvest and talk about the dead, and also to dance, and sing. They also told ghost stories and made mischief for others.
During the Potato Famine of 1846, increased immigration from Ireland caused the tradition of Halloween to spark interest again and become more popular. Americans began to dress up and go from house to house asking for food or money.
The focus of the holiday shifted by the 20th century to a family and community-oriented holiday. The concept of trick-or-treating evolved from the asking for food or money into the bribe idea that if you feed kids candy, they will not be mischievous.
The modern version of Halloween that we celebrate today is a rich mix of different ethnic cultures that immigrated to the United States, including Native American influences.
Trick-or-treat has developed into a tradition of fun and fright for little kids, as well as a time to dress up and party for older adults.
Halloween today is a time to celebrate the strange and the weird, as well as have fun scaring people and pulling pranks on the stingy.