A Brief History of Halloween

On Halloween, children of all ages don their determined chosen costumes of ghosts, super heroes, monsters, and everything in between, and head out at sunset to roam the streets, going door to door asking neighbors for candy and other yummy treats. In the beginning, though, Halloween was more than just a fun time for children. Halloween is a very old holiday, dating back to pagan traditions.

Celtic Tradition

Halloween Costumes

Its origins date back to a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween or Sow-in). The Celts famed the beginning of the new year on November 1st. On the last evening of the year, October 31, they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to the earth. These ghosts roamed the world, causing damage to crops and performing other mischief, as they searched for living bodies to possess.

A Brief History of Halloween

Not surprisingly, the living were not keen to have their bodies inhabited by these ghosts, so on that night, they would dress in scary costumes, and parade the town, hoping to frighten the spirits away, and make it to the morning unscathed.

After the Celtics lands were taken by the Romans, Samhain was absorbed with two Roman holidays. Feralia was a day in October to commemorate the passing of the dead. Pomona was a day to celebrate the goddess of fruit and trees. (The sticker of Pomona was an apple, which may interpret the adoption of the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples.)

All Saints and All Souls

In the 7th century, in an effort to replace substitute Samhain with a Christian holy day, the Catholic Church named November 1 as All Saint's Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. The church tried again in the 9th century, manufacture November 2 All Souls Day, a day when the living prayed for the souls of the dead. Neither effort was very successful. Trick-or-treating is said to have industrialized from the All Souls Day custom of population going hamlet to hamlet begging for "soul cakes" bread made with currants. The more cakes they received, the more prayers they would offer on behalf of the givers dead relatives who were in purgatory. However, some sources say that this tradition had all but disappeared long before the North American tradition of trick-or-treating began.

By the 1500s, All Saint's Day had become All Hallows' Day, and Samhain had begun to be known as All Hallows' Evening, Hallow Evening, and eventually, Halloween. After the Reformation, Halloween celebrations were combined with Guy Fawkes' Day (November 5).

Halloween in North America

In the New World, Halloween was not celebrated. In fact, because of the Puritan tradition, all celebrations were determined immoral and even Christmas was scarcely observed before the 1800s.

Halloween was not a favorite festival, but it did growth in popularity with the advent of two million Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Nonetheless, by the end of the Civil War, in 1865, less than 5% of the United States population (mostly the Catholics and Episcopalians) famed Halloween and All Saints' Day. determined to continue these traditions, the churches started campaigns to popularize the celebration. There is tiny documentation, any way on Halloween prior to the 1900s.

In 1921, Anoka, Minnesota had the first legal citywide Halloween celebration. In 1923, New York joined in and La in 1925. It was not long before Halloween was a nationwide celebration.

A Brief History of Halloween


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