Halloween is the Festival for little ghosts and goblins to take to the streets, asking for candy and scaring one another. Halloween is the one of the oldest holidays still celebrated today. It’s one of the most popular holidays, second only to Christmas.
Spooky stories are told around fires, scary movies appear in theaters and pumpkins are expertly (and not-so-expertly) carved into jack-o’-lanterns.
Amid all the commercialism, haunted houses and bogus warnings about razors in apples, the origins of Halloween are often overlooked. Yet Halloween is much more than just costumes and candy; in fact, the holiday has a rich and interesting history.
The first Halloweens were tied to the quickening dark, to seasonal change, to death, to the movement of mythical beings—fairies, witches, dead souls—through the night. Halloween was once imagined as a rift in reality where time slipped by without the traveler knowing he’d gone missing. As a night to return home, dead or alive. There was fear, yes, but it was fear of loss—of children and family, of land, crops, and place. This night wasn’t about violence, but rather about the unquiet of guilt, anticipation of the unknown, of facing the consequences of meddling with things you couldn’t—or shouldn’t—control. These Halloweens meant something; they held a place in the year for magic, for mourning, for first love, for fear. Then, and even now on Halloween, the otherworld seems always and uniquely present. On this night, it can be broached, or we, if we’re willing, can imagine it.
millions of people view Halloween as a time for fun, putting on costumes, trick-or-treating, and having theme parties. Others view it as a time of superstitions, ghosts, goblins and evil spirits that should be avoided at all costs.
Although Halloween has been viewed mainly as an American holiday, each year people in more and more countries have been adopting it. Many newcomers to the celebration, however, are unaware of the pagan origins of Halloween symbols, decorations, and customs, most of which are related to supernatural beings and occult forces.—
Halloween is on October 31st, the last day of the Celtic calendar. It was originally a pagan holiday, honoring the dead. Halloween was referred to as All Hallows Eve and dates back to over 2000 years ago.
All Hallows Eve is the evening before All Saints Day, which was created by Christians to convert pagans, and is celebrated on November 1st. The Catholic church honored saints on this designated day.
Origin of Halloween
Halloween culture can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Roots lay in the feast of Samhain, which was annually on October 31st to honor the dead.
Samhain signifies “summers end” or November. Samhain was a harvest festival with huge sacred bonfires, marking the end of the Celtic year and beginning of a new one. Many of the practices involved in this celebration were fed on superstition.
The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night. Since not all spirits were thought to be friendly, gifts and treats were left out to pacify the evil and ensure next years crops would be plentiful. This custom evolved into trick-or-treating.
The origin of Halloween lies in Celtic Ireland
To find the origin of Halloween, you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland’s Celtic past.
Samhain had three distinct elements. Firstly, it was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31 October and throughout the following day.
The flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids.
It was also a festival not unlike the modern New Year’s Day in that it carried the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.
To our pagan ancestors it marked the end of the pastoral cycle – a time when all the crops would have been gathered and placed in storage for the long winter ahead and when livestock would be brought in from the fields and selected for slaughter or breeding.
But it was also, as the last day of the year, the time when the souls of the departed would return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released from the Otherworld and were visible to mankind.
Samhain: its place in the Celtic calendar
The Celts celebrated four major festivals each year. None of them was connected in anyway to the sun’s cycle. The origin of Halloween lies in the Celt’s Autumn festival which was held on the first day of the 11th month, the month known as November in English but as Samhain in Irish.
The festivals are known by other names in other Celtic countries but there is usually some similarity, if only in the translation.
In Scottish Gaelic, the autumn festival is calledSamhuinn. In Manx it is Sauin.
The root of the word – sam – means summer, while fuin means end. And this signals the idea of a seasonal change rather than a notion of worship or ritual.
The other group of Celtic languages (known as Q-Celtic) have very different words but a similar intention. In Welsh, the day is Calan Gaeaf, which means the first day of winter. InBrittany, the day is Kala Goanv, which means the beginning of November.
The original Celtic year
- Imbolc: 1st February
- Beltaine: 1st May
- Lughnasa: 1st August
- Samhain: 1st November
The Celts believed that the passage of a day began with darkness and progressed into the light. The same notion explains why Winter – the season of long, dark nights – marked the beginning of the year and progressed into the lighter days of Spring, Summer and Autumn. So the 1st of November,Samhain, was the Celtic New Year, and the celebrations began at sunset of the day before its Eve.
HALLOWEEN TIME LINE
FIFTH CENTURY B.C.E.
The Celts observe the festival of Samhain at the end of October, when they believe ghosts and demons roam the earth more so than at other times.
FIRST CENTURY C.E.
The Romans conquer the Celts and adopt the spiritistic rituals of Samhain.
SEVENTH CENTURY C.E.
Pope Boniface IV is said to have established the annual celebration of All Saints’ Day to honor martyrs. *
ELEVENTH CENTURY C.E.
The second of November is designated as All Souls’ Day to commemorate the dead. Observances surrounding All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are collectively called Hallowtide.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY C.E.
The name of the holiday, Hallowe’en (Hallow Evening) appears in print as Halloween.
NINETEENTH CENTURY C.E.
Thousands of people who move from Ireland to the United States bring with them Halloween customs that, in time, combined with similar customs of emigrants from Britain and Germany, as well as Africa and other parts of the world.
TWENTIETH CENTURY C.E.
Halloween becomes a popular nationwide holiday in the United States.
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY C.E.
Commercial interest in Halloween grows into a worldwide multibillion-dollar industry.
HALLOWEEN COMES TO AMERICA
Celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems there. Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived.
Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.
CELEBRATIONS LIKE HALLOWEEN WORLDWIDE
Halloween has generally been regarded as an American holiday. Yet this celebration has become popular in many parts of the world. Additionally, there are other festivities that are like Halloween in that they celebrate the existence and activity of spirit creatures. Shown here are some of the popular holidays like Halloween around the globe.
- North America – Day of the Dead
- South America – Kawsasqanchis
- Europe – Day of the Dead and variations of Halloween
- Africa – Dance of the Hooded Egunguns
- Asia – Bon Festival
TODAY’S HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS
The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry.
On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
The origin of Halloween games
Perhaps the best-known of Halloween games is ‘ducking/bobbing for apples. This is a game where the object is to retrieve an apple from a barrel or large bowl of water without using hands or feet.
Young women tossed apple-peels over their shoulders, hoping that the peels would fall on the floor in the shape of their future husbands’initials.
Women stood in front of mirrors in darkened rooms, holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their future husbands’ faces.
There was nothing particularly symbolic about the origin of Halloween games such as this.They are many fun games in which all ages can participate, and apples were plentiful at this time of the year.
Halloween Trivia & Fun Facts
Because of the unknown, Halloween is the one of the most captivating holidays, often celebrated by both adults and children. The element of surprise makes it fun and unpredictable. Enlighten yourself with Halloween trivia and fun facts to enjoy the holiday even more. Take the trivia and make a quiz for your next party!
Halloween Holiday Trivia
- Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
- Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
- Pumpkins also come in white, blue and green. Great for unique monster carvings!
- Halloween was brought to North America by immigrants from Europe who would celebrate the harvest around a bonfire, share ghost stories, sing, dance and tell fortunes.
- Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.
- The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night. They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
- Halloween candy sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the United States.
- Chocolate candy bars top the list as the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters with Snickers #1.
- Halloween is the 2nd most commercially successful holiday, with Christmas being the first.
- Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.
- Black cats were once believed to be witch’s familiars who protected their powers.
- The fear of Halloween is known as Samhainopobia.
Monster Trivia & Folklore
- Signs of a werewolf are a unibrow, hair palms, tattoos, and a long middle finger.
- Vampires are mythical beings who defy death by sucking the blood of humans.
- In 1962, The Count Dracula Society was founded by Dr. Donald A. Reed.
- To this day, there are vampire clubs and societies with people claiming to be real vampires.
- There really are so-called vampire bats, but they’re not from Transylvania. They live in Central and South America and feed on the blood of cattle, horses and birds.
- Many people still believe that gargoyles were created by medieval architects and stone carvers to ward off evil spirits
Some evangelical Christians have expressed concern that Halloween is somehow satanic because of its roots in pagan ritual. However, ancient Celts did not worship anything resembling the Christian devil and had no concept of it.
The Bible’s answer
The Bible does not mention Halloween. However, both the ancient origins of Halloween and its modern customs show it to be a celebration based on false beliefs about the dead and invisible spirits, or demons.—See “Halloween history and customs.”
The Bible warns: “There must never be anyone among you who . . . consults ghosts or spirits, or calls up the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, The Jerusalem Bible)
While some view Halloween as harmless fun, the Bible indicates that the practices associated with it are not. At1 Corinthians 10:20, 21, the Bible says: “I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too.”—New International Version.
Along with thanks and compliments to the sources for the shared data
Creative Commons Copyright © Shanepedia 2012