Fancy dress costume, scary outfit competition, trick- or- treat? What is Halloween and why do some people celebrate it and others not? Well, read on to find out all you need to know about the intriguing holiday.
What is Halloween and where did it originate from?
Halloween is a holiday celebrated once a year on the 31st of October. This year 2019, it will fall on Thursday 31st October.
The origins of Halloween came from the ancient Celtic pagan festival known as Samhain (pronounced as Sow-in). A celebration that marked the end of the harvest season or summer and the beginning of winter – the season usually associated with human death.
It lasted from October 31st to November 1st. With November 1 celebrated as the Celt’s New Year.
It was believed that on the eve of the New Year, the world of the living and dead merged and ghosts returned to earth. The Samhain festival was usually commemorated by people lighting bonfires to sacrifice animals and crops to their gods.
They also wore mummy costumes, animal skins and heads all in the attempt to ward off ghosts.
Modern day Halloween origin
After the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic region they combined and merged their festivals with the celebration of Samhain. By the dawn of the ninth century, Christianity had spread all over the Celtic territories.
Pope Gregory III reassigned November 1 as a day set aside to honor the saints – known as All Saints Day. By 1000 A.D, November 2 became All Souls Day, a day set aside to honor the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated very similarly to Samhain with huge bonfires, parades, dressing up in costumes as angels, devils and saints.
All Saints Day assimilated some of the traditions of Samhain and was called All-Hallowmas with the evening before becoming All Hallows Eve and subsequently Halloween.
Origin of Halloween in America
The American version of Halloween emerged from the blending of the customs and beliefs of American Indians and European groups.
Because of the hugely protestant practicing population in Colonial New England, the festival of Halloween was limited. It was more common in the Southern Colonies especially Maryland.
The first events to mark the celebrations of harvest were ‘play parties’. These play parties included individuals telling each other’s fortunes, narrating stories of the dead, dancing and singing.
By the mid 19th Century, Colonial celebrations in the autumn were becoming popular but not celebrated everywhere. They featured all types of mischief-makings and telling ghosts stories.
At the end of the 19th Century, millions of Irish immigrants flooded America and they helped make the celebration of Halloween popular.
It’s reported that a quarter of all the candy sold yearly in the United States is purchased for the celebration of Halloween.
Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, festive gatherings. These traditions, all borrowed from the Europeans became very common.
Americans would dress up in fancy costumes and go from one house to another requesting for money or food. This practice eventually became known as trick-or-treating.
It was also believed that young women on Halloween could divine their future husband with tricks using yarns, mirrors and witchcraft.
By the end of the 1800s, there was a move to mold Halloween into a more neighborly and community get-together rather than witchcrafts, pranks and ghosts.
Halloween became by the end of that century, parties for kids and adults to celebrate. These parties were focused on fun games, seasonal foods, and festive costumes.
Soon leaders and the press started advocating that the scary and grotesque parts of Halloween be scrapped. As a result of their efforts, the religious and superstitious overtones of the celebration began to gradually disappear.
Halloween parties origins
Halloween, by the 19th 20s and 30s, had become a popular secular community-centered holiday. Celebrations included parties and parades.
Despite the best efforts of the communities and schools, these celebrations were plagued by vandalism at the time. With even more intense efforts, communities and town leaders had limited vandalism and the holiday had evolved into a celebration mainly for the young.
With the high number of children around during the fifties baby boom, the celebrations and parties moved into the classrooms and homes away from town centers. This was so that they could be easily accommodated there.
With the revival of trick-or-treating between the 19th 20s and 50s, entire communities could come together for inexpensive parties and trick-or-treating to celebrate Halloween.
It was also a fun way for families to avoid tricks being played on them while providing treats for the kids in the neighborhood. This was the birth of a tradition that has now become so rampant and continues to grow.
It is believed that an estimated 6 billion US dollars is spent yearly on Halloween making it commercially the second largest celebrated holiday after Christmas.
Scary Halloween movies history
When it comes to the commercial success of the Halloween holiday, the scary Halloween movie franchise has had massive success at the box office.
With classics such as Halloween directed by John Carpenter starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance and Tony Moran. Inspiring other films such as scream, Friday the 13th etc.
Halloween match making
Before Halloween became all about trick-or-treating and fancy dress parties, they were many other rituals that have now been abandoned. Many of which focused on the dead instead of the living and the past instead of the future.
Some of which we’ve touched on already – like young women doing witchcraft to find their future husbands – otherwise known as Halloween matchmaking. It was believed that by doing this, they would find husbands by the following Halloween.
Black cats and ghosts
Halloween is a holiday filled with mystery and superstition. The superstition that crossing the road at the same time as a black cat will bring us bad luck, originated from the middle ages.
It was believed then that witches at the time turned into black cats to avoid being detected. In the Celtic times, people felt really close to their dead loved ones and wanted their spirits to visit during Halloween.
So they’d set up places for them at the dinner table, light candles along paths to help guide them from the spirit world, leave treats for them and so on. Today, ghosts are depicted as more vicious and sinister and also a lot more scarier.
It was believed back in the days in Ireland that if a cook buried her ring in mashed potatoes on the night of Halloween, she would bring true love to the person who found it.
In Scotland, it was recommended by fortune tellers that an eligible young lady name hazelnuts after all her suitors and toss them in the fireplace.
The Hazelnut that burnt to ashes without popping or exploding was to be her future husband (Some versions of this story saw it the opposite way – the nut that burned to ashes represented a love that would fade away quickly and not last).
In other attempts to find their husbands, young women would toss apple peelings over their shoulder in the hopes that the peels would land on the floor in the shape of their husband's initials.
All Souls Day and more facts
During the early days All Souls parades in England, the poor would go from house to house begging for food. Families would offer them Soul Cakes (pastries) in exchange for prayers for the souls of their dead relatives.
This practice was highly encouraged by the church in attempts to stamp out the practice of leaving food for dead spirits. The practice was widely known as going-a-souling and children went around their neighborhoods asking for food and ale.
Today, this has been replaced by modern trick-or-treating.
The tradition of dressing up in fancy costumes came about when people wore masks so that the ghosts that returned to roam the earth during Halloween would not recognize them. It was also believed that if the wore masks, ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
People placed food and drinks outside their homes on Halloween to appease ghosts and also to prevent the ghosts from entering their homes.
The winter periods during Celtic times were cold, uncertain, dark and frightful. Food supplies were quite low and often ran out, people were afraid because too many people lost their lives during this period and the Celts really believed that the dead did come back to life during this time.
It’s no wonder that they came up with the festival of Halloween. Whether you celebrate Halloween, believe in it or not, the tradition has come a long way and it seems it will be staying with us for many, many more years to come.
Do you love or hate the festival of Halloween? Drop us your comments below to share what you love or hate about this intriguing holiday. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe to our website for more informative and entertaining content.
Kami C. is a wife and mum to 2 adorable boys. She is a Life Coach, author and freelance writer. She believes that each and everyone one of us was created for a reason. That, we all have unique sets of talents and gifts available to us. Her mission is to help individuals find their purpose and realise their full potential. To empower people to create the live they want and deserve.