For many people, Halloween is an exciting time of year. It is a holiday filled with candy, costumes and parties. Ever wonder where this holiday came from? Or when it started? The origins of Halloween date back about 2,000 years to Ireland and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1, viewed this day as a symbol of the end of summer, and harvest, and the beginning of winter. Winter, to the Celts, was a sign of death.
They believed that on the day before the New Year, the worlds between the living and the dead were blurred; on the night of the Oct. 31, the Celts would celebrate Samhain. This was the day that they believed the ghosts of the dead roamed the earth.
This day was marked by enormous bonfires, the Celts would burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. They would dress in costumes, mostly animal heads and skins, and attempt to read each other’s fortunes.
By A.D. 43 Romans had conquered most of the Celtic land and for a span of about a 100 years. During that time, the Romans began to incorporate two of their festivals into the ancient tradition of Samhain. The first one was Feralia. This was a day in late October where the Romans would commemorate the dead. The second was Pomona. This was a day for the Romans to honor the goddess Pomona, their goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol for this goddess is the apple, and the mix of Samhain and Pomona most likely explains the “bobbing for apples” tradition so widely used today.
Christianity made its mark on Halloween in the 800s when the Christians began to move into Celtic land. Pope Boniface IV renamed Nov. 1 as “All Saints Day” a day to remember all saints and martyrs. The night of Samhain, (October 31st) became known as “All Hallows Eve,” and eventually Halloween.
Trick-or-treating, dates back to England and their All Soul’s Day parades. During these parades, the poor people of the town would beg the people in the crowds for food. Instead, the people would give them “soul cakes” in exchange for the person’s prayers for the dead in their family. This distribution was highly encouraged by the church in an attempt to replace the older tradition of leaving food and wine out to make passing ghosts happy.
Where did the tradition of dressing up in costume for Halloween originate? This tradition came from the fear that people had hundreds of years ago, of being seen by a ghost if they left their home. The holiday symbolized this. In order to quell their fear, and to trick the ghosts, people would wear masks if they left their homes after dark. This was practiced in the hopes of being seen as a ghost, to make the real ghosts leave one alone.
For hundreds of years, Halloween has remained mostly unchanged by society. People have been dressing up and giving out candy for a long time. Only when people know of the holiday’s roots, do people fully understand the reasoning behind the things people do on Halloween every year. It is possible with this knowledge, of Halloween’s historical past, that people will have a greater respect for the holiday, and the people who it meant so much to so many years ago.
Jenna Shepanski is a fourth- year majoring in English. She can be reached at JS618186@wcupa.edu.