As September comes to an end, the wind outside starts to feel a little colder. Leaves give up their green color for yellows, oranges, and reds. People start wearing coats and hoodies and seek warmth. Stores remove their ‘back to school sale’ items and replace the isles with pumpkins, fake cobwebs, and boxes of candy. The night seems a little scarier, and dawn seems further away. Yes, it’s that time of the year – Halloween time.
Halloween is a festival that is celebrated each year on the 31st of October. This day is associated with scary creatures of the night, horror movies, children in costumes, and – of course – lots of candy. We think of lonely ghosts, hungry vampires, and angry werewolves. But what was the origin of this festival? Where did it all begin?
The roots of Halloween can be traced back to the Celts, a group of people who lived 2,000 years ago in the present-day United Kingdom, Ireland and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1st which marked the end of summer, and the beginning of the dark – also a time which was linked to human death. The Celts had believed that the day before new year’s, October 31, the boundary between the living world and the world of the dead became blurry. As the ghosts of the dead made their way back to earth, the ancient Celtic celebrated Samhain on October 31.
Additionally, the Celts believed that the presence of ghosts and supernatural beings on Earth would make it easier of Celtic to persist in making predictions about the future and the winter to come. Druids, Celtic priests, would build a huge bonfire where people would come together to burn crops and animals as an offering to the Celtic deities. They did so while wearing costumes of animal heads and skins.
As time goes on, change is inevitable. By 43 A.D, most of the Celtic land was under control of the Roman Empire. Over the course of 400 years, Samhain merged with two festivals of Roman origin. The first festival was called Feralia which was celebrated in late October. The Romans thought of this day as the passing of the dead. The second festival was Pomona, a day to honour the roman goddess of fruit and trees. If you remember the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples, this roman festival is actually where the apple became incorporated into celebrations.
Moving forward in time, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands by 1000 A.D, and the religion started to blend with Celtic traditions. The church had declared November 2 as All Soul’s Day to honour the dead, which was celebrated like Samhain. The Day was also called All-hallows, and the night before it became Hallows Eve. Eventually, Hallows Eve became popularized as Halloween.
Halloween became what it is today due to immigration to America. People from different European countries looking to escape famine arrived in America during the late 19th century. It was this massive influx of immigrants that popularized the national celebration of Halloween.
Wondering how trick-or-treating started? Americans borrowed European traditions and dressed up to ask neighbours for food or money. This eventually became known as trick-or-treating. By the late 1800s, Halloween became a community event where children and adults took part in various activities such as pumpkin carving, parades and games. The day became less about ghosts and witchcraft and more about sharing food with neighbours. Modern day Halloween is not as “frightening” or “grotesque” as history depicts the original festival to be as newspaper companies and community leaders encouraged parents to make the day less religious and superstitious.
Though the Halloween that we celebrate in the 20th century is far from its roots, it is fascinating to see how a festival of the past has gone through changes. With the influence of time, religions, geographical location and technology, the ancient festival of Celts has persisted through time and currently exists through Halloween.