History of Halloween


Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

by Michelle Beauvais  |
Husky Herald Reporter  |

Every year on October 31, people dress in costumes to celebrate Halloween.  Children go out Trick-or-Treating, going door to door to get free candy, while adults hand out the candy at their doors or go to Halloween parties.  Halloween has become an intrinsic part of Western culture, but where did the traditions start and how did they evolve into what we now know was Halloween?

Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday called Samhain.  Samhain was a celebration for the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.  During this time, the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and spirits were able to walk the Earth.  In order to guide these spirits and to keep them from causing havoc with the living, the Celts built large bonfires.  They also made sacrifices and left food on their doorsteps to appease the spirits.

When the Romans conquered the region, they tried to Christianize the native people.  To accomplish this, they wanted to replace the Pagan holidays with Christian versions, so instead of stomping out the old traditions, they simply transformed them.  Along with many other original Pagan celebrations, November 1, Samhain, became All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve.  However, the Celts still celebrated the journey of the dead instead of the Christian saints, so the Church made a new holiday on November 2, All Souls Day, in order to pray for and honor the deceased.

The tradition of carving Jack-O-Lanterns comes from the old Irish tale of Stingy Jack.  He made a deal with the Devil so that he would never go to Hell.  However, when he died, he was not good enough to get into Heaven.  Instead, he had to spend eternity wandering the darkness in between the two.  To light his way, he got an ember from Hell, put it in a turnip, and turned it into a lantern.  People eventually started carving pumpkins instead simply because they were easier to carve.

The modern idea of Trick-or-Treating also evolved from Old World traditions.  In addition to the food set out on Samhain, another old tradition also plays its part in the modern practice.  During the Middle Ages, beggars would go door to door on Hallowmas (All Saints Day) and ask for food in exchange for prayers for the dead in a practice called “Souling.”  Eventually, a similar tradition reached America with the large influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants at the turn of the century.  However, the practice did not become officially known as “Trick-or-Treating” until the 1930s.  The practice continued to spread across the country, though it slowed during World War II with the sugar rationing, and managed to hit mainstream popular culture by the 1950s, eventually becoming the practice that is known today.

Halloween has evolved since its origins as a Celtic celebration, and though today it is used as an excuse for children (and teenagers) to dress up and get free candy, it has become an undeniably important part of our culture as a day of mischief, terror, and a time for everyone to let loose their inner child.