Halloween history dates back to both the Celtic harvest
festival called Samhain (summer’s end) and the Christian All Saints Day (All Hallows or Hallowmas).
The word “hallow” means to make holy or, something that is holy. It can also refer to saints.
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Halloween history takes us back some 2,000 years ago when the Celts celebrated their New Year around November 1st. Called Samhain, it was a festival to mark the end of the harvest, celebrating the end of the “lighter half” of the year and the beginning of the “darker half”.
They also believed it was a time when the dead were able to return to earth. The traditions included large bonfires and costumes like masks, veiled or blackened faces, and white robes. This might have been a way to imitate the dead, make peace with them, or ward off evil spirits.
All Saints Day
All Saints Day, a day to honor all saints, can be traced back to May 13, 609 or 610. This is when Pope Boniface IV consecrated (blessed) the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Originally (126 AD), the Pantheon had been built as a temple to all gods of Ancient Rome. Following the consecration it became a Christian church. The date was also the time of celebrating the Feast of the Lemures, a pagan holiday from Ancient Rome. Rituals were performed to pacify the restless spirits of the dead.
During the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741) the date was moved to November 1st, the time of the Celtic Samhain, the Irish harvest festival. However, the Irish celebrated All Hallows Day in April.
Finally in 835, under Pope Gregory IV, November 1st was decreed as the official date for All Saints’ Day or, All Hallows Day with the evening before called All Hallows Eve.
Now you had Samhain and the Feast of the Lemures intermingling in time and space with the Christian All Saints’ Day and it’s traditions. Halloween became known as a time of ghosts and wandering spirits.
During the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, many of the Irish immigrated to the United States and with them they brought their observance of All Saints’ Day as well as the traditions from Samhain. In time, the celebration became Halloween as we know it today.
According to The American Patriot’s Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb:
”The American tradition of trick-or-treating echoes the ancient Celtic tradition of leaving food on doorsteps for the souls of the dead. In Britain, people went ‘souling’ on All Hallows’ Eve, walking from house to house asking for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the dead.
In the Old World, people carved turnips and gourds into lanterns to scare away evil spirits. In America, they used pumpkins instead. Irish legend says a fellow named Jack was barred from hell for being too tricky, and had to walk the earth carrying a lantern lit with an ember the devil gave him. His name was Jack of the Lantern – or, as we say today, Jack-o’- Lantern.”
People today decorate their houses with pumpkins, corn husks,
scarecrows, and witches that have flown into trees. Other characters include ghosts, skeletons, vampires, bats and black cats. Kids dress up in costumes ranging from the ghoulish to super heroes to animals. Ghost stories, horror films, and haunted houses/attractions are also popular during this time.
Halloween history evolved out of Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals. All Saints’ Day continues to be celebrated by Christians around the world on November 1st and Celtic cultures still hold the festival of Samhain, October 31st-November 1st.
Halloween continues to be celebrated worldwide with little ghosts and goblins knocking on doors and shouting “Trick or Treat”!
To add more fun to your celebration, check out Halloween Poetry, Halloween Punch Recipes, Halloween Snacks, and Halloween Words.
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