By: Caitlin R. (’20)
Halloween – Where’s it From?
Halloween. When we hear this word, what comes to mind? Maybe ghosts, candy, trick-or-treating, costumes, scary movies, and having a scary, but fun night with friends. We have all celebrated Halloween like this our whole lives, without even knowing where these traditions come from.
It all dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, which marked the end of the summer and the beginning of the winter, which was associated with human death. Celts had a belief that on the night before the new year, which was October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On October 31st they celebrated Samhain, and they believed that on this night the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. They also had a celebration where the Celts wore costumes, attempted to tell each other’s fortunes, and build sacred bonfires where they burned crops and animals as sacrifices to Celtic deities. Then, by 43 A.D. the Roman empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory, so two Roman festivals were combined with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. By the 600s A.D,. Pope Gregory III made November 2 ‘All Souls Day,’ which was a day to honor the dead. ‘All Saints Day’ was the day before ‘All Souls’ day,’ and it was also called All-Hallows. The night before ‘All Saints Day’ began to be called All Hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween.
Halloween Comes to America
When Halloween traveled to America, it was more common in the southern colonies than in colonial New England because of the strict Protestant belief systems there. The beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and American Indians meshed, and from this a distinctly American version of Halloween emerged. Colonial halloween celebrations included the telling of ghost stories and mischief making. By the middle of the 19th century, annual autumn festivities were common but Halloween was still not universally celebrated. By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular holiday with parades and town-wide parties as entertainment, and trick-or-treating too. Now, today’s Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, and one quarter of all candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.
So the next time you go trick or treating, make sure to thank the Celts for this fun tradition!