It’s that time of year again. Scary movies on TV and candy everywhere. The inevitable question, what are you going to be for Halloween?
But, what is Halloween, where did the idea come from? Today, it is the 2nd most commercial holiday in the United States, with only Christmas surpassing it. Children dress up and go trick-or-treating house to house, parties are held for all ages, and spooky movies are blockbuster hits. Do you know how trick-or-treating started, or what the original meaning of Halloween was?
The origins of the holiday we now call Halloween go all the way back to pagan times, when the ancient Celtic people would celebrate Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter; the belief at this time was also that the transition of seasons created a bridge between the living and the dead. The Celts made huge community bonfires, and wore costumes created from animal heads and skin.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1st as All Saints Day, to honor the saints and martyrs of the Catholic religion, and borrowed some of the traditions of Samhain. In 1000 A.D. the church made Nov. 2nd All Souls Day, a church sanctioned day to honor the dead. Similarly to Samhain, All Souls Day included bonfires and dressing up in costume as angels, devils, and saints. This celebration was also known as All-hallows or All-hallowmas, and the evening before which was the tradition night of Celtic Samhain was called All-hallows Eve, which was eventually turned into Halloween.
Pumpkin carving comes from the Irish immigrants who came to the United States in such high numbers from the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 1800’s. They brought the tradition of carving large turnips and potatoes into goblins and imps (Jack-O-Lanterns) and placing candles within to frighten away “Stingy Jack” (a folk tale about a man whose soul wanders the earth after tricking the devil) and other spirits. In coming to America, pumpkins were discovered to make great jack-o-lanterns.
Trick-or-Treating has its origins in the past as well, through something called “souling”. On All Soul’s Day the poor would go from home to home and receive soul cakes in return for praying for the household’s deceased. Eventually the children in the neighborhoods participated in the tradition and would go from home to home and receive cakes, ale, and money.
To learn about the origins of the holiday we celebrate today, and the many different customs and traditions, check out the following:
Be safe and have a Happy Halloween!