At one time Halloween was celebrated as the end of the year by the Celts who lived thousands of years ago in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. Samhain marked the end of the warm summer months and the beginning of the cold winter ahead (Halloween). Over the years, the holiday has evolved into a celebration geared towards children and families, filled with parties and trick or treaters out searching for candies and treats. Several different religions and peoples, mainly the Celts, Romans, and Christians, have influenced how Halloween was celebrated and what it stood for.
Originally, the Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the veil between the the living and the dead was the thinnest. On this night, they thought that the dead returned to the earth as ghosts, causing trouble and damaging crops, but also enabling their priests, the Druids, to delve into the world of divination, or predicting the future. The Celtic Druids would hold festivals on the night of Samhain by lighting large bonfires and dressing up in costumes, usually made from animal hides. The Celts would dance around the bonfires and make offerings to the dead spirits, in hopes that this would either scare them away or convince them not to cause trouble. They would not leave their homes at night without a costume because they believed the costumes would confuse the spirits into thinking that the people were ghosts as well (Halloween).
By A.D. 43, the Romans had taken control of the Celtic lands and two Roman festivals merged with Celtic traditions. Feralia, the day that Romans honored their dead, and the day they honored Pomona, Goddess of Fruit and Harvest, brought what many people believe is the tradition of “bobbing” for apples. By the 800s, Christianity began to spread into the Celtic territories, thus further changing the holiday. November 1st became “All Saint’s Day” and in A.D. 1000, November 2nd was named “All Souls’ Day”. Many believe the church was attempting to replace the pagan rituals with a Christian holiday. All Souls’ Day was celebrated with bonfires, costumes and parades and eventually, the three days of celebration became known as Hallowmas.
When Europeans began inhabiting America, the various traditions of Halloween came with them, however strict Protestant beliefs limited what celebrations were acceptable. As the American colonies grew, the tradition of Halloween changed drastically, eventually becoming what we know of today.
The first Halloween celebrations included stories of the dead, dancing and singing, and harvest gatherings of neighbors and communities (Halloween). Although these celebrations were common, they were not widely accepted just yet.
The tradition of trick or treating came from parades celebrating All Souls’ Day in England. The poor would beg for food and many people would give them “soul cakes” in return for prayers for their dead relatives. This was known as “going a-souling” (Halloween). Also, in early America, Irish immigrants escaping the Potato Famine often dressed up in costumes on Halloween and went from home to home asking for food and money. Today, our children dress in costumes of all sorts and visit houses asking for tricks or treats.
Many Halloween traditions and superstitions have Celtic origins and some Christian origins. The superstition that black cats are bad luck stems from many Christians believing the witches would turn into cats in order to escape persecutions. It is believed that the idea of walking under a ladder is bad luck because the Egyptians thought triangles were sacred.
Today, Halloween has veered away from religious meanings and beliefs and has become a holiday centered around family and having fun. People of all ages dress in colorful costumes, attend parties, go trick or treating, and hand out candy to children. Although there are some negative connotations associated with Halloween, it is a fun holiday that many enjoy.