Halloween. The time of year when pumpkins seem to take over and the nights get just a little bit spookier. In 2017, more than 179 million Americans took part in different Halloween celebrations, and for 2018, expects around 180 million. It’s safe to say that many people enjoy dressing up and having a little fun on All Hallows’ Eve.
Halloween originated from the Celtic festival “Samhain.” This festival was celebrated to mark the end of a bountiful summer harvest and the beginning of the cold winter. Celts celebrated Samhain at this time also because it was believed that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead would be blurred on the night before the new year. Ghosts of the dead would return to Earth to cause trouble and harm crops, but would also provide predictions about the how to find comfort and direction throughout the harsh winter.
The costumes the Celts wore disguised the living while giving them an opportunity to celebrate around a sacred bonfire and attempt to prophesize each other’s fortunes. It was believed that to keep safe from the ghosts, skins could be worn so that the spirits would mistake them as dead, rather than living.
As the Roman empire expanded and the Celtic territories were conquered, the Roman holidays of Feralia and Pomona became meshed with Samhain. Feralia was a time to reflect on the passing of the dead while Pomona honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, specifically the apple.
Christianity then spread and began to blend with other holidays and celebrations. Nov. 2 became “All Souls’ Day” to honor the dead and is believed to have been implemented to replace older Celtic rituals with church-sanctioned celebrations. The rich commemorated their loved ones who had passed and asked others to pray for their relatives in exchange for the distribution of “soul cakes” to the poor. There were still bonfires and costumes, but instead of dressing as animals by wearing their skins, saints, angels, and devils became the normal attire on All Saints’ Day. This celebration was also known as All-Hallowmas from the Middle English translation of All Saints’ Day, and eventually transformed into All Hallows’ Eve and then Halloween.
When All Hallows’ Eve made its way to America, it was resisted by Protestant beliefs, but the land areas that did celebrate Halloween featured storytelling, fortune telling, dancing, singing, and the telling of ghost stories. Immigrants from Ireland helped spread the popularity of All Hallows’ Eve, and in the 1800s, there was an increase effort to change the attitudes and views of Halloween from ghosts, mischief, and witchcraft to community and neighborly celebrations.
Nowadays, we see the remnants of different rituals and cultures come together to make what we know as Halloween. The Celtic ritual of wearing disguises to ward off the dead became wearing costumes. The Celtic belief that ghosts and premonitions were clearer this time of year birthed Halloween traditions of haunted houses, horror movies, and spooky witchcraft. The Roman holiday Pomona meshed itself into celebrating the harvest and bobbing for apples. The poor going around house to house exchanging prayers for Soul Cakes has become Trick-or-Treating.
Halloween has many components that made it what it is today, making it such a likeable holiday. Whether you’re here for the spooky stuff or just to dress up and show off your costume, most people can find some way to have fun celebrating Halloween.
Be careful, be safe, and don’t mess with too many spirits this Halloween!
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