Ghosts and goblins, trick-or-treat, and haunted houses are a far cry from Halloween’s origins. Halloween dates back thousands of years; it came from the Celts who occupied lands in many areas in Europe and Ireland. They celebrated the New Year on November 1, which signified the end of summer and fall. Winters were associated with death, so the Celts took part in festivities on October 31. Samhain was the night before New Year when they believed the dead walked amongst the living. Since these spirits roamed the earth, they thought it was a good time for the Celtic priests to predict the future. To celebrate before the New Year, the Celts built bonfires where they sacrificed crops and animals for the deities. They adorned themselves with animal costumes and told each other's fortunes.
Then the Romans conquered the Celtic territories, and during their reign, two festivities developed: Feralia and Pomona, combined with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The Feralia festival was in late October to honor the dead and then another day to celebrate Pomona, Roman Goddess of Fruit and Trees. Merging the Samhain and Pomona, an apple her symbol, most likely transformed into the tradition of bobbing for apples.
As Christianity spread, its influence changed those existing festivities. Pope Boniface IV made November 1 Alholowmesse-All Saints' Day to honor the saints and martyrs of the times. There is an assumption this change was to turn the festivals of the dead into a sanctioned holiday by the church. The name eventually changed into Halloween. A few hundred years later, the church made November 2 All Souls' Day to honor the dead.
As immigrants migrated to the United States, they brought with them their own versions of Halloween, but the celebrations in the New England states were limited due to strict Protestant beliefs. Over time, the different ethnic groups and the American Indians’ customs blended to form the American customs of Halloween. It was not until the mid- to late nineteenth century when a flood of immigrants, mostly Irish fleeing the famine in their country, celebrated what is similar to today’s Halloween. The custom of dressing up and going door-to-door asking for food or money emerged in the better half of the century. Halloween became a community holiday rather than about the dead.
Since Halloween was a community holiday, parades and parties were in civic centers, and trick-or-treat slowly faded. This practice of celebrating Halloween continued until the influx of babies in the 50s. The baby boom era made it difficult for everyone to gather in town halls, so they moved to schools and homes, revitalizing trick-or-treat. At the time, trick-or-treat was a cheap way for the community to celebrate together, unlike in today's times where Halloween costs skyrocketed it to the third largest commercial holiday.
From honoring the dead to community celebrations, Halloween grew and merged many customs to form one of the most popular holidays in America. If you happen to be dressed for the occasion (handing out or collecting candy), know that the spirits are keeping you company.
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Denise Haschka is a native of the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, and currently resides in Germany with her husband and fur-baby, Shakespeare. She can be stubborn and downright finicky; the last one doesn’t apply to food, though. Perseverance is a trait she often associates with her college degree, but she’s still waiting for her Pulitzer Prize nomination. Denise is a blogger, poet, and multi-genre author of two published books: a dark, psychological suspense thriller Net Switch; and women’s fiction/romantic comedy adventure Fogged Up Fairy Tale.