Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated on October 31st throughout the West. The festival’s origins date back to the Celtic festival of Samhain more than 2000 years ago.
The Celts celebrated New Year on November 1st of each year. The day marked the end of the summer and the beginning of winter. For them,the night before the new year held great significance. They believed that the barriers between the living and the dead were erased on the night of October 31st. They were convinced that the ghosts of the dead came to visit the living every year on this day. That event was called Samhain.
They also believed that in addition to destroying crops and causing trouble throughout the community, these spirits made it easier for the Druids to predict the future. A druid was a priest in ancient Celtic times. They were also known as magicians or soothsayers. They were the legal authority in the community and had a lot of power. Druids also worked as adjudicators, lorekeepers, medical professionals, and political advisors.
When the Christian influence began to grow on Celtic lands by the 9th century, the Church gradually blended old Celtic traditions with Catholic rites. One such blended tradition was the All Saints’ Day, originally celebrated by the Church in remembrance and in honor of all the Christian martyrs.
Initially observed on May 13th of every year (since 609 AD), it was later moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory III. Celebrated simultaneously to Samhain with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils, it served as a bridge between the Christians and the Celtics.
Another name for All Saint’s Day was All-hallows or All-hallowmas. The latter was a term from the Middle Eastern ‘Alholowmesse’ meaning the same thing (All Saint’s Day). The night before All Saint’s Day is called All Hallow’s Eve – eventually becoming the festival we call Halloween.
Due to rigid Protestant beliefs in the American colonies, the celebration of Halloween was very limited. This was because it was seen as more of a pagan tradition than a religious, Christian one. The festival was more commonly celebrated in the southern American colonies and Maryland.
As more diverse groups began to enter and live inside of America, a distinctly American version of the festival slowly emerged forth. While the first celebrations included ‘play parties’, which publicly celebrated that year’s harvest; neighbors eventually began to share ghost stories with one another, and participate in fortune telling, on that day.
When the Irish finally began to arrive in the second half of the 19th-century, they largely influenced the celebrations of Halloween and played a part in popularizing it across the nation.
The tradition of dressing up and ‘trick-or-treating’ was borrowed from Irish and the English tradition(s). Americans would borrow clothes and items during Halloween night from Irish or English immigrants which is where ‘trick-or-treat’ originates from. It was also commonly believed by young women that they would divine the appearance of their future husbands by doing magic tricks with yarn and apples.
In the late 1800s, however, Halloween was gradually moved towards a more communal holiday from an overtly religious one. Halloween parties began to focus on both adults and children, games, seasonal foods and festive costumes.
Parents were encouraged to take out the ‘frightening’ aspects from the festival, due to which it eventually lost its religious significance and is now mostly just a communal event celebrated throughout America, regardless of faith, religion or community.