How did Halloween come to be what we know today as a night full of tricks and treats?
Halloween began as a Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts were a collection of tribes with origins in central Europe that shared a similar language, religious beliefs, traditions and culture about 2,000 years ago. November 1st was considered their New Year, and it was believed that the night before the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred.
Because November signaled the end of summer, the Celts associated the cold winter months with destruction as their crops would die. They believed that the return of ghosts to Earth caused this, and to prevent it they built huge bonfires. The Celts wore animal heads as costumes and made sacrifices to their gods.
The Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic lands in 43 AD, and the festival of Samhain was combined with Roman holidays. One was in late October used to honor the dead and the other a festival to honor Pomona, who was the Goddess of Fruit and Trees.
In the 9th century, Christianity had spread to the Celts. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It’s believed today that the church was trying to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain.
When the colonies were established most Protestants didn’t celebrate Halloween, it was popular in southern colonies though. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the American Indians meshed, an American version of Halloween came into play. The first celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonials would tell ghost stories and participate in mischief and comradery.
America was flooded with new immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.
How will you celebrate Halloween this year? Let us know in the comments!