Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated every year on 31st October. Its origin can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (ˈsɑːwɪn) which marked the end of summer, the harvest season and the beginning of the cold, dark winters of Northern Europe. They associated the new season with death as this is when they believed ghosts of the dead would visit the earth. To ward off these ghosts, people would light bonfires and wear costumes.
The Romans incorporated most of the traditional Celtic lands of Europe into their Empire. Along with land, they adapted two Roman festivals, Feralia and the day of the Goddess Pomona, and combined them with Samhain. Feralia was the Roman Day of the Dead and Pomona was the Goddess of trees and fruit. Her symbol was the apple, which is thought to be the origin of the Halloween game of bobbing for apples.
In the Eighth century A.D, Pope Gregory III designated 1st November as the day to honor all the saints. All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day for activities like costume parties, lantern-carving and trick-or-treating.
When the first European settlers came to North America, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. In New England, these celebrations were repressed because of the rigid Protestant belief systems but were much more common in the southern colonies and Maryland. European Halloween customs combined with Native American traditions like “play parties,” where people would gather to dance and sing and share stories about their dead ancestors. By the middle of the Twentieth Century, Halloween had become a secular, community-centered holiday.
The Fifties was Baby Boom, time which meant there were lots of young children around and the centuries old tradition of “trick or treating” was revived as a way for children to be included in the Halloween celebrations.
Fact: Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.
Researched and written by Jon Kuykendall-Barrett