Each year on October 31st, we celebrate Halloween. But, how did this holiday come to be? What more to this tradition is there other than kids dressing up and saying “trick-o-treat?” The truth is, this day has a long history and reason for it to become the way it is today. Not many people spend time uncovering the truth about Halloween. To most, it only marks October as being spooky month. There is more to it than just the yearly candy-fest we are accustomed to.
Halloween’s Origins – “Samhain”
In ancient times, there were a group of people in Ireland, the UK and France known as Celts. 2,000 years ago, they created a tradition known as Samhain. Samhain is celebrated because practicers of the holiday believe that the physical world and spiritual world are more open to one another on October 31st-November 1st, which allows for more interactions amongst the two realms. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the harvest and signify what they believed to be “the dark half” of the year. Rituals include bonfires, dancing, feasting and building altars to honor deceased ancestors.
Celts often left offerings outside their doors, such as loaves of bread, so fairies would not harm them. Celts were often afriad that fairies would kidnap them on that day, so they dressed up as animals or monsters as another tactic to ward them away.
Transition To Halloween During The Middle Ages
As the years passed on and the Middle Ages came forth, the traditions of the holiday progressed along with time. Bonfires became a tradition, more like a requirement, so families felt protected from fairies and witches. Carved turnips called jack-o-lanterns began to appear, attached by strings to sticks and embedded with coal. Later Irish tradition switched to pumpkins.
The tradition of “dumb supper” began during this time. Families would come together to eat dinner but only after inviting their dead ancestors to join them for supper. They attempted to interact with these spirits in various ways: Children would play games to entertain the dead, adults would talk to the dead on everything that happened from the year. Families would leave doors and windows open for the dead to come in and eat cakes that had been specifically made and offered for them.
Halloween As It is Today
Halloween arrived in the 19th century in America due to Irish immigrants that brought their traditions and practices to the country. In Ireland, “mumming” was known as the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given in return, instead of candy as we know today.
Borrowing from these traditions, Americans began to follow and dress up in costumes. They went house to house asking for food or money, a practice that would develop into today’s “trick-or-treating.”
In the late 1800’s, there was a change in the way America celebrated Halloween. Halloween was usually about ghosts, pranks, monsters and witchcraft. However, the meaning of the holiday began to focus more about community and get-togethers. During this transition, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties centered on food, games and decorative costumes rather than traditionally scary ones.
Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween has lost most of its original meaning throughout time.
For more information on the history of Halloween, click on this link.