History Of Halloween

The history of Halloween can be traced back nearly 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrated in the areas now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. This holiday represented the official Celtic new year. Taking place every November 1, Samhain marked the first day of winter as well as the end of the harvest, both of which were often associated with death.

On the eve of their new year, October 31, Celts believed that worlds of the living and the dead became intermingled and that ghosts would come to earth to wreak havoc and destroy crops. With the presence of supernatural powers, Celts believed their priests, known as Druids, could more easily predict the future and what would occur in the coming year.

Consequently, Celts would celebrate their new year”s eve (October 31) by holding sacred bonfires where they burned crops and dressed up in animal skins. Afterwards, they would return home and light a fire in their own hearths that would supposedly protect them from evil spirits during the coming year.

Halloween and the Romans

By 43 A.D., the Romans had nearly taken over Celtic lands. Over the next 400 years of Roman rule, the Celtic Samhain merged with the Roman Feralia, a holiday honoring the dead.

By the 600s A.D., Christianity had spread to these Celtic areas. During the same period, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 All Saints” Day, a day to commemorate martyrs and saints. The Pope”s creation of this holiday is commonly thought to have stemmed from the Catholic Church”s attempt to replace the existing pagan holiday. All Saint”s Day was also known as All-Hallows while the night before, October 31, was called All-Hallows Eve, soon becoming Halloween.

Modern Halloween Traditions

So what does dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating have to do with harvest festivals and honoring the dead? These Halloween traditions also find their roots in Northern Europe with the Celts.

Celts dressed in animal skins and danced around bonfires as part of their celebration of Samhain. Their intention was to ward off evil spirits while hiding their identity. According to Celtic folklore, spirits would think that people dressed in masks and animal regalia would be mistaken as being other spirits, rather than humans. Modern Halloween costumes loosely mimic this tradition.

The origin of trick-or-treating dates back to England”s All Saint”s Day parades. During the celebration, poor people would promise to pray for a family”s dead relatives in exchange for pastries known as soul cakes. Children eventually adopted the practice, calling it going a-souling. They would go around neighborhoods collecting sweets in exchange for presenting the residents with a trick or performance. The custom soon became an activity exclusively for children and, hence, the modern form of trick-or-treating was born.