Origins of Halloween

By: Annika Getz

Celebrations surrounding the dead or death can be found all over the world, and all throughout history. Pretty much every country has a holiday which is similar to America’s Halloween.

Halloween itself has a rich history, originally coming from the Celtic holiday, Samhain (pronounced saw-win, so-ween, or soo-when). Samhain was celebrated from October 31st to November 1st, and was thought to be the beginning of the new year. It served as an autumnal equinox, a winter solstice, a spring equinox, and a summer solstice. The veil between the land of the dead and the land of the living was thought to be thinner than ever, and therefore, souls could pass between worlds for the night. Divination was also thought to be at its most powerful, so many fortunes were told.

The Druids kicked off the celebration by lighting a bonfire, and dancing around it. This was meant to keep the evil spirits at bay. They also threw the bones of sacrificed cattle into the fire (this is where the word bonfire comes from, bone-fire). They then smeared ash on their face to disguise themselves from ill-intending spirits. This grew into wearing masks or costumes, which of course, evolved into Halloween costumes. That night, the Celts would leave their doors open, and leave out the favorite foods of their passed-away loved ones, in hopes that they would visit them in the night.

This celebration was changed after the Romans took control of Celtic land. It became Feralia, which commemorated the passing of the dead, and celebrated the Goddess Pomona. People put gifts on graves, where spirits were said to hover over for the day.

In the seventh century CE, Pope Gregory IV came up with the idea of All Saints’ Day, which was a part of the three day festival called Allhallowtide. This celebration began with All Hallows’ Eve, then had the Feast of All Saints’ day the next evening, and concluded with All Souls’ day (which originated in the 8th century CE, in a French monastery, then spread through Europe).

These traditions were brought to North America by the British (though it was initially rejected by the Puritans). Many traditions spread through the United States somewhere around 1845, after the Irish potato famine, which caused displacement of many Irish people.

The rest of our modern day Halloween traditions were soon incorporated into these traditions. Some examples include: Jack-o-lanterns came from an Irish folk tale, trick or treating originated in people going house to house, asking for soul-cakes, which were small cakes that had crosses cut into the top, and etc.

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