History of Halloween
Halloween is an annual celebration. But do you know how it came into
existence? Like all other celebrations, Halloween too has its history.
Halloween history is one of religious traditions, sacrifices and
folklore. And it is, indeed, a fascinating one.
History of Halloween, like that of any other festival, is inspired
through traditions that have come about through ages from one
generation to another. We follow them mostly as did our dads and
grandpas but it must be agreed that, with time, much of the
originality of the tradition has got distorted with newer additions
and alterations. So much so, that it is now almost impossible to know
the true origin of the tradition. But what seems to be the most
authentic reasons are discussed here.
The word "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church.
The term is shortened from All-hallow-even, or "All Hallows' Day",
which is now known as “All Saints' Day”. It was a a Catholic day of
observance in various northern European Pagan traditions. Roman
Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherians used to observe “All Hallows
Day” to honor all Saints in heaven, known or unknown. The holiday was
called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.
Many European cultural traditions, particularly the Celtic cultures,
hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when
spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is
most potent (according to, for example, Catalan mythology about
witches and Irish tales of the Sídhe).
The Romans observed the holiday of Feralia, intended to give rest and
peace to the the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of
the dead, offered up prayers for them, and made oblations to them. The
festival was celebrated on February 21, the end of the Roman year. The
modern holiday of Halloween has its origins in the ancient Gaelic
festival known as Samhain. The Festival of Samhain is a celebration of
the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is erroneously
regarded as 'The Celtic New Year'. Traditionally, the festival was a
time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and
slaughter livestock for winter stores. The Ancient Gaels believed that
on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the
dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause
havoc such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would
frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock
were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an
attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them. When the Romans
occupied Celtic territory, they incorporated the Celtic practices into
the festivals. In the first century AD, Samhain was assimilated into
celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that took place in
October, such as Feralia, their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess
of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might
explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on
The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish
immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the
favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and
unhinging fence gates.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with
the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called
souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk
from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square
pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would
receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the
dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the
dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even
by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.
The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the
tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and
trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an
image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree.
Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him
again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to
Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell
because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single
ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was
placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when
the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more
plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a
hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.
So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite
"holiday," the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew
out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of
Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans.
The thrust of the practices also changed over time to become more
ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of
dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more
And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin
carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil
as one cares to make it.