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A History of Halloween

Have you ever wondered the history behind the spooky holiday we celebrate at the end of every October? What is the reason for going door-to-door asking for candy and dressing up like witches and zombies? Halloween actually originated from a Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced Sow’-en or Sow’-een) celebrated in what is now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and parts of France celebrated this holiday on November 1st in order to honor those who have passed. This time of year was celebrated for the ending of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the coming cold winter months.


Those who celebrated the traditions of Samhain would make bonfires to burn crops and sacrifice animals to their Celtic deities. They would sometimes dress in “costumes,” such as a pig’s head, to ward off evil spirits. All Hallows’ Eve–October 31st, this holiday celebrated the changing of the seasons and the supernatural as the people believed that the spirits of the dead would return to earth at that time. The old tradition of carving Jack-o-lanterns originated from the Irish who carved turnips and inserted candles in order to provide light for any lost souls in purgatory.


In the eighth century, the Pope Gregory III and the Romans overtook much of the area where the Celtics lived and soon their traditions morphed into something different.


The Pope declared November 1st a day to honor all saints and called it All Saints Day and October 31st as All Hallows’ Eve. Though it incorporated some traditions from Samhain, it was renamed and became more accommodating to the Roman Catholics who conquered much of the area. All Saints Day was a day set aside to pray for all lost souls, but also a time of celebration. Often people of the church would go door-to-door trading prayers in exchange for sweets or “soul cakes”, a light fluffy bun often served with butter or jams. The traditional bonfires and costumes of the holiday continued, but the Romans began to have more celebrations such as parades and family gatherings.  No matter the holiday or the difference in rituals, these people always celebrated or commemorated their dead ancestors.


Halloween in America

As people travelled the lands they brought their beliefs and traditions along with them and the celebrations of Halloween in America were similar to that of the Celtics and Romans who celebrated before them. In the 19th century Irish immigrants brought over their traditions that influenced the Americanized holiday as well.

Some colonies were not accustomed to the traditionsdue to their protestant religion, but other colonies had parties and shared harvests with their fellows. Around the late 1800s people began to make more of a celebration with festivities and family gatherings, ghost stories, bonfires, and tricks and treats were a standard for those who participated. Pumpkins were much easier to carve than that of the original turnips the Irish whittled into and so pumpkins became the Halloween icon in North America.


Over the years the holiday of Halloween has changed drastically. We still think about those traditions held by the Celtics ages ago by dressing up as dead characters, carving pumpkins and sharing ghost stories around a bonfire. Today Halloween is America’s second largest commercialized holiday with households spending approximately $9.1 million on the holiday alone and $3.2 billion on just costumes in 2017.

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