Halloween; A History

As the spookiest time of year draws in, some may ask the question of how the considerably silly tradition of Halloween came to be. While some version of Halloween tradition has occurred for centuries, it didn't become the kid-friendly, neighborhood festivity we recognize today until recently. 

The history behind Halloween begins roughly two thousand years ago, when an ancient Celtic festival, called Samhain, was celebrated, according to History.com. In the region we know today as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, Samhain was celebrated among the Celts in light of what was considered their new year, on November 1. Because of the long, dark, and cold winter season these people endured, their new year marked the start of a time that was heavily associated with human death. It was believed that the boundaries between the living and the dead, the night before the new year, became blurred; and therefore, ghosts of the dead walked among the living.

This supernatural presence that was believed to occur each year influenced the tradition of prophecy-telling in the Celtic culture. Priests would burn large sacred bonfires and attempt to tell fortunes that the Celts often clung onto for hope throughout their hopeless and dreadful Winter season. During this celebration, people wore costumes consisting mainly of animal furs.

After the Roman's gained control of the Celtic regions in 43 A.D., two of their celebrated holidays took the place of Samhain. History.com says: "The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of 'bobbing' for apples that is practiced today on Halloween." 

In the next thousand years, the influence of Christianity would, in a sense, transform the belief behind these celebrations. When All Saints Day was moved from the Spring to November 1 by Pope Gregory III, the following day became, naturally, All Souls' day. History.com continues to state, "It’s widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related church-sanctioned holiday." The festivities of this day took on much of the same atmosphere as the Celtic holiday, Samhain. "The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows, or All-hallowmas, and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween."

Halloween had a small start in America in colonial New England, but gained popularity as time went on. The distinctly dramatic traditions of the different cultures living in America at this time blended to create an all-unique version of Halloween that one might consider truly American. It started as a celebration of harvest, including parties, dancing, telling fortunes, and sharing stories of the dead. As more immigrants flooded into America, the tradition of Halloween became more and more enthused. By the end of the 1800s, traditions like trick-or-treating and festive costumes developed as a result of neighborly get-togethers and family-focused festivals. History.com explains that trick-or-treating was also a "relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration." In the mid 20th century, during the baby boom, Halloween began to cater much more to children, "By the 1950s... Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young." Therefore, as parties and festivities moved from the town into the home, the all-American Halloween we know today was born.