It’s October the month when leaves start to brown and we start to bundle up as the air takes on a crisp chill. It is also the month which concludes with a celebration with roots that reach as far back as 2,000 years ago at a time when the ancient peoples were convinced the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living as the souls of those who had died during the year travelled into the otherworld.
It’s time to get our creepy on. For this reason, The Weekender will celebrate not a single day, but devote the whole month of October to all things scary! Boo! Did that scare you? If it did, it’s only the Weekender having some seasonal fun.
The Halloween custom has come a long way from its origins in Celtic Ireland, transforming from people celebrating a serious Pagan holiday into a fun, kid-friendly holiday. The history of the Halloween custom probably won’t end until the holiday itself dies out — and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
The ancient origins of the Halloween custom originates from 2,000 years ago, from a sacred Celtic festival called Samhain. Samhain was an important festival in Celtic culture, celebrating the end of a year, and representing the final harvest for farmers. Since Samhain signified the end of a year, Celts also associated it with human death. They believed that on the night of October 31st the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year travelled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables during this occasion. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were considered to be in attendance, ghosts, fairies, and demons. They also believed it made it easier for Druids to make predictions about the future.
Christianity had spread into Celtic territory by the 800s. In an attempt to eradicate Samhain, Pope Boniface IV made November 1 All Saints’ Day, making the Celtic festival a church-approved holiday. All Saints’ Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, and the night before All Saints’ Day was called All-hallows Eve. In the year 1000 the Catholic Church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was very similar to Samhain because they also lit huge bonfires. Christians would usually light big bonfires, dressed up in Halloween costumes (such as a saint or devil) and have parades, honoring the dead.
During the celebrations, poorer residents begged for food. Families would give these residents soul cakes, a type of pastry — but only if they prayed for their family’s dead relatives. The church encouraged families to do this instead of leaving out food during the night. The church wanted to curb non-residents from entering the city and taking advantage of the free food. These were the origins of trick-or-treating.
When Europeans immigrated to colonial America in the 1700s they brought the tradition of Samhain-inspired Halloween. Halloween wasn’t celebrated openly at first because Christians believed it was a pagan holiday, but it was openly celebrated in Maryland. The meshing of different ethnic groups, including the Native Americans, created a new form of Halloween, closely matching modern America’s version of Halloween. The first official celebrations included public events celebrating the last harvest, where people would tell stories of the dead, read each other’s fortunes, and dance. Halloween didn’t truly become a holiday until the 1800s, when an influx of immigrants moved to America.
The celtic custom of Halloween surged into American tradition in the 1840’s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine, transforming into today’s version of this popular holiday. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. The custom of “trick or treating” is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called “Souling”. On November 2, “All Souls Day”, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. These were the origins of modern America’s trick-or-treating tradition.
All-hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day were celebrated for many centuries, collectively called Hallowmas. This holiday eventually turned into what we know today as Halloween. Happy Halloween!
The Halloween custom has come a long way from its origins in Celtic Ireland, transforming from people celebrating a serious Pagan holiday into a fun, kid-friendly holiday. The Halloween custom probably won’t end until the holiday itself dies out — and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The ancient origins of Halloween originates from 2,000 years ago, from a sacred Celtic festival called Samham, which celebrated the end of a year, when the souls of the dead travelled into the otherworld.
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