It’s that time of the year again. It’s time for pumpkin carving, trick or treating, costumes, and family fun. But, why do we celebrate Halloween? Where did this tradition start?
The holiday’s roots began around 2,000 years ago with the Celtic festival called Samhain. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. They believed that the day before the new year, on October 31, the veil between the living and the dead weakened and ghosts could cross over to walk the earth. This day became known as All Hallows Eve.
On All Hallows Eve, the Celts would leave food and wine on their doorsteps to keep the spirits at bay. If they left the house, they would wear masks. They felt the masks helped them to blend in with the dead. The Celts also believed that the presence of ghosts made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. With the long, dark, and cold winter ahead, this was important for the Celts.
To celebrate All Hallows Eve, Druids would build bonfires, dress in costumes, and attempt to tell each other’s future. Following the bonfire, they would light their fireplace, using embers from the bonfire, to protect them through the long, hard winter.
After the Celtics were conquered by the Romans, in 43 A.D., two Roman festivals were combined with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The celebration of Feralia, which was a festival to celebrate the passing of the dead; and the day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees, were both added to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. It is believed that today’s tradition of bobbing for apples came from the Roman day to honor Pomona.
In 1000 A.D., after the spread of Christianity to Celtic lands, the church would declare November 2, as All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain. The church would host big bonfires, have parades, and dress up in costumes of angels, saints, and devils. The night before this celebration was still called All Hallows Eve, and then eventually, Halloween.
Once in America, the colonists’ beliefs mixed with that of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians. This resulted in an American version of Halloween; which included, parties, events to celebrate the harvest, stories of the dead, fortune-telling, dancing, and singing.
In the late nineteenth century, when America began to fill with immigrants from all over the world, the celebration of Halloween became popular nationwide. Americans wore costumes and went door to door asking for food and money. A tradition that later evolved in to today’s trick or treating.
After the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both adults and children, with food, games, and festive costumes, became the primary way to celebrate the holiday. Today’s Halloween festivities are a mixture of Celtic, Roman, and early American All Hallows Eve traditions that have evolved into a booming business, bringing in an estimated $6 billion a year. Halloween is the country’s second largest commercial holiday, after Christmas.