The Origins of Halloween

Every year on October 31 little kids dress up as some of their favorite characters from books and horror movies and go door to door looking for candies.  It’s a great holiday and kids have a ton of fun creating their costumes.  It is not only children that get into the spirit of Halloween there are plenty adults that enjoy playing dress up for a day and heading to a party.  During all the revelry of Halloween how often do we stop and think about the origins of Halloween.  Here are how some of the traditions of Halloween got their start.

All Hallows Eve

The word Halloween is derived from All Hallows Eve, the day before All Hallows Day.  It is a pagan tradition that precedes Christianity, a Celtic festival that is called Samhain.  It was used to mark the end of the harvest season in the Celtic culture.  The holiday is also associated with the festival of the dead.  Many scholars believe that this holiday in the Celtic culture was the beginning of the New Year.  The holiday was celebrated with food, bonfires late into the night and people dressing up in animal skins.  Here is a look at the traditions of Samhain.

All Saints Day

In the 7th century Pope established the Catholic Feast of All Martyrs Day, later on Pope Gregory moved the festival to November 1.  Around the 9th century Christianity was spreading throughout the British Isles and the traditional Celtic holidays would blend with the Roman traditions and that would give us Halloween.  Both holidays had similar celebrations with food, bonfires and now the costumes would include those of the saints and martyrs.

Coming to America

In early Colonial America there was very little in the way of celebrating Halloween, it was more celebrated further south.  But as the European traditions combined with the Native Americans it was here that modern Halloween traditions began.  There were ghost stories and parties but it still wasn’t widely celebrated across the country.  In the latter half of the nineteenth century Irish immigrants started arriving after the potato famine and the brought the Halloween celebrations with them.

Trick or Treating

Americans borrowed from Irish traditions began to dress up and start going door to door asking for food or money and that practice eventually turned into trick or treating.  In the 19th century there was a move to make Halloween about community celebrations rather than about ghosts and goblins.  In was in this effort that Halloween lost most of its scary or grotesque nature, although that has made more of a comeback recently.