This holiday has a rich mix of tales behind it’s history. I will explain the origins from once it was until now as we know it. We enjoy what it has become and will continue to make it the second largest commercial holiday, following Christmas at Number one!
Blended together throughout history the Celtic holiday of Samhain, the Roman’s festival of Feralia along with the Catholic Hallowmas period of All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day played a role influencing the current version of our traditional Halloween. By the 19th century though Halloween started to lose its religious connection becoming more of a community based holiday surrounding children.
Halloween’s History starts nearly two thousand years ago in a place we now know as Ireland. The Celts who lived there celebrated their new years day on November first. This day marked the beginning of winter and the end of the summer season. The start of the winter months marked a time of much death, not only for people due to disease but also of their crops.
According to the Celtic beliefs at that time, the spirits of the dead would return on the night before the new year. Marking October 31st as the start of Samhain. In this mystical time Celtic priests would make prophesies, crops would diminish, and the line between living and dead would merge.
Huge bon fires were set ablaze as the townsfolk would gather round. Animals and crops sacrificed to Celtic Deities. People would don costumes of fur and animals as a way to not be recognized by the returning evil souls that would come on this night. The townsfolk however would light candles as a way to show their departed family members the way back home.
Around 43 A.D. the Romans had conquered the much of the Celtic lands. In their time of reign, nearly 400 years two of their own festivals intermingled with the old celebrations of the Celts Samhain holiday.
The festival of Feralia, was a day that the Romans would use to remember the passing of the dead. This took place in late October. Their second celebration was a special day to honor the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol being the apple. This might explain the tradition of “Bobbing for apples” as we know it today.
Influences of Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands by the 800’s. Pope Boniface IV designated All Saints’ Day to be November first. A time to remember and honor martyrs and saints.
This celebration also being called All-hallows or Hallowmas, the night before being the night of Samhain was called All-hallows eve. Eventually in about A.D. 1000 the church made November second All souls’ Day as the day to honor the deceased. This was celebrated much like Samhain providing the people with bonfires, parades and of course the dressing up in costume, which at this time mostly were angles, devils and saints.
An excerpt from EWTN.com:
“The close proximity between Halloween and All Saints Day is actually a coincidence. All Saints Day is the feast that celebrates all of the Christian Saints. The earliest reference to it occurs in the writings of St. Ephrem of Syrus (d. 373), and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) attached it to a specific day – the first Sunday after Pentecost. The assigning of a day in the Western Church was made at Rome in the 6th century, but it was not firmly established until Pope Boniface IV consecrated the ancient Pantheon in Rome to Christian use on May 13, 609 (or possibly 610). May 13 was the date for the feast until Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in the basilica of old St. Peter’s to “All the Saints.” Henceforth, the feast day was celebrated on Nov. 1, receiving universal appointment by Pope Gregory IV sometime before 844. The chief reason for the change was not to counteract Halloween (as is often claimed) but for the very practical need of pilgrims. The day was a popular among Christian faithful, and many pilgrims journeyed to Rome for the celebration. As the autumn harvest had just been held, there was more food available in the Eternal City at the start of November, and so it was easier to manage and feed the visitors than in May.”
The first celebrations of the holiday in America included small public parties that were held in celebration of the harvest. Neighbors could come to share their stories, dance and sing as well as tell each other’s fortunes. In early colonial days Halloween celebrations also featured telling of ghost stories and of course mischief making! Although by the middle of the nineteenth century these festivities were not celebrated all over the country yet.
As more and more immigrants entered the country, mostly due to Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped make this holiday even more popular. The tradition then started that people would go house to house asking for food and money. This of course began what we know today as “Trick or Treating”.
By 1950 Halloween had begun to evolve into a celebration geared more towards children then adults. With Trick or treating now revised it was a relatively cheap way for the community to celebrate together. A theory is that families could prevent children’s tricks by giving them small sweet treats.
The Halloween favorite tradition of trick or treating is most probably dated back to the early All Souls’ day parades held in England. During these celebrations poor towns people would beg for provisions. The families that had more would give them small sweet cakes called “Soul cakes”. In return for the cakes, the poor would promise to pray for the families and their deceased relatives.
Costumes where brought into the Halloween celebration more and more. Having both Celtic and European influence. In earlier times winter was a hardship for many resources ran very low and it was uncertain times for people.
On Halloween when it was widely believed that the spirits of the dead would roam again people thought if they left their homes they would encounter them. In order to avoid being recognized the people would wear masks, as not to be mistaken as fellow spirits. To keep the roaming ghosts away from entering homes, the people would place bowls of food on their door steps.
Today, Americans spend nearly $7 billion dollars every year on Halloween! $2 billion of that being just from candy sales alone! Its apparent that we love our holidays very much and its not only a time for fun but a time to come together as a family, as a community and celebrate all we have to be thankful for in our lives.
Have a fun Halloween and stay safe! For more information on the history of Halloween be sure to visit History.com and EWTN.com.