Tomorrow, people all over the nation and the world will disguise themselves and walk around their neighborhoods begging strangers for candy. Seems legit.
I was raised in a very religious household, and never celebrated Halloween growing up. It makes me wonder where this bizarre holiday and its traditions came from, and how it became what it is today.
I did some research, and I have to say, it was fascinating. I decided to be a doll and share the most interesting points in a post, in honor of the holiday. Happy Halloween!
Like most holidays, the origins of Halloween are rooted in pagan customs. It seems that Halloween began in Celtic Ireland some 2,000 years ago. Back then, it was not called Halloween, it was called Samhain, which means November, or summer’s end. The Celts had four major festivals each year, and Samhain was their autumn festival.
One thing that makes the Celtic calendar much different from ours is that the Celts believed that days and years began in darkness and transitioned into lightness.
This is why their new year began in the winter. It began in the darker months, and progressed lighter into spring and summer. So November 1 is the Celtic New Year. Celebrations began at sunset the night before, which is October 31.
The Celts were very cautious of transitions, believing that during these times the normal laws of the universe did not apply. The World Book Encyclopedia states: “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living…During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead.”
With November 1 marking the New Year, the Celts thought the transition between the old year and the New Year opened the boundaries of the “Otherworld.” Spirit creatures would be able to roam the earth freely during this transition.
Influences on Samhain
When the Romans conquered most of the Celtic lands, they began to bring some of their traditions into the mix. There are two major Roman festivals that were eventually incorporated into Samhain.
The first was the festival of Feralia, which was near the end of October. This festival honored the passing of the dead. The second was the festival to Pomona, the god of fruit and trees.
The apple was the symbol of Pomona. Interestingly, since the Irish festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, apples were already a big part of that. In fact, it was required that all of the apples had to be picked before the festivities of Samhain could begin on the night of October 31. So it made sense for the conquering Romans to elevate apples into the festival.
Despite Roman opposition, even after they were conquered, the Celts kept celebrating Samhain. In the 7th century, Pope Gregory III declared that November 1 would be All Saints Day, or all Hallows Day. Previously All Saints Day had been in May. This move was likely to merge Christian and pagan beliefs, thus converting more pagans to Christianity.
The evening before became All Hallows Eve, which eventually came to be called Halloween.
How Common Traditions Began
There are so many interesting traditions associated with Halloween, and let me tell you, their origins are not boring. I picked out four of the best (in my humble opinion) Halloween traditions, and found out how they began.
As I mentioned, it was believed by the Celts that spirit creatures could roam freely on Samhain. Some people even left their doors opened and placed food out for the spirits of their loved ones to welcome them home.
However, it was also thought that some of these spirits were looking for bodies to inhabit, or wanted to harm people they were angry at in their lives on earth.
To protect themselves, the Celts disguised themselves in various costumes, their version of demons, often incorporating animal heads. The purpose was to confuse the evil spirits, and trick them into thinking the humans were also demons. It was a defense mechanism to protect the living.
As time passed and Christianity began to exert more influence over the holiday, the Catholic Church encouraged dressing up as angels, saints, and other heavenly creatures. Eventually, it became acceptable to dress up as anything you wanted, as long as it was a disguise.
Jack O’ Lanterns:
I’ve always wondered why we carve strange faces into pumpkins in the days approaching October 31. Again, this tradition is rooted in Irish history.
The Celts had a myth about a man called Stingy Jack. He was a blacksmith and a drunk, and one night he ran into the Devil in a pub.
He invited the Devil for a drink. However, being “stingy,” he did not want to pay for his drink. He managed to convince the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks, in exchange for Jack’s soul.
However, when the Devil complied, Jack changed his mind and pocketed the coin. Jack had a silver cross in his pocket next to the coin, which prevented the Devil from freeing himself. He only agreed to set the Devil free on the promise that the Devil would leave him and his soul alone for 10 years. The Devil complied.
After the passing of 10 years, Jack again encountered the Devil, this time on a country road. The Devil was eager to claim what was owed to him. However, Jack ended up tricking the Devil again, convincing him to climb a tree to grab a luscious apple as a last meal for Jack to enjoy before having his soul claimed.
When the Devil did so, Jack quickly carved a cross into the trunk of the tree, trapping the Devil again. He made the Devil promise to never try to claim his soul again. Having no choice, the Devil again complied, and was freed by Jack.
The story doesn’t end there for Stingy Jack. When he died, God wanted nothing to do with the deceiver, and barred him from entering Heaven. To top it off, the Devil was pissed and didn’t want Jack in Hell either. Confused and distraught, Jack asked the Devil what he was supposed to do. The Devil told him to go back where he came from.
The way was very dark, so the Devil, in an undeserved act of decency, tossed Jack a piece of coal from hell. Jack placed the coal into a carved turnip to light his way.
Image via Jovan-Ukropina Deviant Art
From then on, he was no longer called Stingy Jack. Instead, they called him Jack of the Lantern. It is said that he still roams the earth with his turnip lantern.
Tradition meant the Irish would carve creepy faces into turnips and place them in windows to scare away Stingy Jack and the other unsavory souls that roamed the earth on Samhain. Later, after the Irish immigrated to America, pumpkins became the more accepted vegetable for this purpose.
Bobbing for Apples:
While the apple has always had a large part in the origins of Halloween, the tradition of bobbing for apples actually came from Britain, and extended to Ireland. It was known as a courting ritual. The first young lady to bite an apple would be the first to marry, it was believed.
Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
The game was eventually all but forgotten, until Americans decided to incorporate it into modern Halloween festivities.
There was also a superstition that if a girl put her bitten apple under her pillow before she fell asleep, she would see her future husband in her dreams.
Trick or Treating:
There are differing opinions about the origins of trick or treating.
One theory asserts that it began in medieval times. Poor adults and their children would go door to door on All Hallows Eve and offer to say prayers and sing songs for the recently departed souls of that family. In exchange, the family would give food or beer to the poor family as a token of appreciation.
Another theory is that because All Hallows Eve became known for pranks, the term “Trick or Treat” was coined to offer kids an alternative to playing pranks, a sort of bribe. The here-are-some-treats-don’t-TP-my-yard-please kind of bribe.
Wherever trick or treating originated from, it became an integral part of Halloween festivities after the Great Depression. Children began going to homes dressed in costumes asking for candy, and it stuck.
Today, Halloween is celebrated all over the world. Kids love to dress up and roam the neighborhoods filling bags or buckets with as much candy as they can. For adults, like many other American holidays, Halloween has become an excuse to gather, eat, drink, and party. We even dress up our animals!
This festival meant a lot people 2,000 years ago. It may not mean the same thing to us today, but Halloween is a great example of the way ancient festivals and traditions from different cultures have collided and morphed into modern day celebrations.
So when you celebrate tomorrow, stop for a moment to think about how humans have been taking part in similar festivals basically since the beginning of our species.
We continue to grow and change as time goes by, which begs the question: What will Halloween will look like 2,000 years in the future?
Be safe and have fun!
The information in this post was taken from several different resources, including: