Ah, Halloween! Every Goth’s peek of the social calendar!
As we plot, plan and craft our costumes in order to be on our most fabulous or shop for Halloween decorations we would use as all year round home décor, we rarely stop to think about the origins of our favorite holiday. It took a lot of time for Halloween to shape into what it is today; a fun, party-style, commercial holiday that generates more than 6 billion dollars annually in U.S. alone!
Origins of Halloween can be traced back some 2000 years, to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain/ Calan Gaeaf. This festival was held to mark the end of summer and harvest time, but also the beginning of the New Year for ancient Celts.
On that night, veil between the world of living and the realm of dead is lifted, so ghosts of ancestors are coming for a visit. Some of the spirits came to cause mischief and trouble, while other spirits came to offer comfort for the upcoming long and dark winter in the form of prophesies given trough Druids.
How does an ancient Celtic New Year festival relate to Halloween?
The way it was celebrated is the key here. First, people would extinguish their house heart fires at dusk, dress themselves in costumes consisting of animal heads, furs and bones, than gather around the huge bonfire to party, offer sacrifices to gods and have their fortune told by Druids.
This is precisely why we are never supposed to leave the lights on in our house on Halloween, dress in costumes, light bonfires, give children candy and have a bunch of superstitions related to this holiday in this day and age.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and Roman Empire conquered most of the Celtic lands. People started to mix and traditions of two cultures started to fuse together. Specially, Roman holyday to commemorate the dead called Feralia and holiday to honor Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is an apple, which is a good explanation for today’s tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.
A couple more centuries passed and Christianity was slowly taking over Europe. In an attempt to assimilate Celtic and Roman Pagan rites into Christian, church-sanctioned holidays, Pope Gregory III introduced The All Saints Day, holiday that was celebrated suspiciously similar to Samhain. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse) and that is where Halloween got its name.
Fast forward a few centuries again, to colonial New England, where predominantly Irish communities held annual “play parties” to celebrate the end of the harvest. Neighbors would share ghost stories, tell each other’s fortunes, sing, dance and allow their children small mischief of all kinds. Young ladies held the belief that they can divine the name or appearance of their future husband using mirrors, pieces of yarn or apple peals. Surge of Irish refugees in the 19th century really popularized the holiday throughout the States.
After WWI, newspapers campaigns that urged parents to remove “frightening” and “superstitious” aspects from the festivities, made Halloween into more secular, party-style, children friendly holiday we know today. Trick-or-treating was promoted as an inexpensive and fun way for the entire community to participate in the Halloween celebration and preventing tricks by providing children with sweets.
One thing is for certain, after 2000 years, three religion changes and across continents, Halloween always remained the source of the dark, mysterious fun that brings communities and cultures together.
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