Have you ever wondered how Halloween got its start? How did the tradition of dressing up in costumes and going around neighborhoods knocking on stranger’s doors and asking for candy begin? Well, if you’re a curious little pumpkin, we have four things you should know about Halloween.
Halloween goes back to 2,000 years ago, when it may have been unrecognizable as you know it today. It was a Celtic festival called Samhain. The word Samhain is modern Irish but means “November.” You can click here to see the various versions of the word and origins.
November 1st marked the new year for the UK and Northern France and signified the start of the “darker half” of the year. It was a time to mark the end of summer and the harvest, and the start of the colder months to come. Colder weather was often associated with death, and the Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred.
This belief led the community to believe this was the best time for Druid priests to prophesize the months to come. The Druids would build huge bonfires to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Since it was believed that spirits would walk among the living, the living would wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits in hopes of confusing them.
By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered a large part of the Celtic territory, which eventually saw the combination of two Roman festivals, Feralia and Pomona, into Samhain. Pomona’s symbol was the apple, which probably explains the origin of bobbing for apples.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st All Saints Day, and this day was also called All-Hallows. The night before November 1st was known as All Hallows Eve and later became Halloween.
- Halloween wasn’t always widely accepted
Halloween was not celebrated widely as it is today. It was common in Maryland and the southern colonies but not so much in Colonial New England. New England had strong opposition to the pagan ritual, and the inhabitants were largely Protestant. They held the Salem Witch Trials, so clearly, something like Halloween was not easily welcomed. Though still in its infancy regarding the Halloween we know today, colonial Halloween was celebrated by telling ghost stories and playing pranks at gatherings.
In the 19th century, the Irish Potato Famine caused millions of Irish immigrants to head to America, and they helped popularize Halloween celebrations.
- Emerging Modern-Day Halloween
The tradition of Trick-or-Treating also started back when the Celtics were trying to avoid and appease spirits. They would leave bowls of food outside their homes in hopes of keeping ghost away from their homes. Early Trick-or-Treating involved coins, nuts, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. In the early 1800s, there was an effort made to make Halloween into more of a family-friendly holiday. Newspapers began encouraging community members to take out anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. These efforts led to the loss of the superstitious and religious overtones to Halloween by the 20th century. Today American’s spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second-largest commercial holiday after Christmas.
There are some old Halloween traditions that have long fallen out of fashion, including matchmaking. There were various traditions which involved young women finding their future husband in a myriad of ways.
One tradition involved burying a ring in mashed potatoes, and the diner who found it would encounter true love. In another ritual, fortune tellers had young women name a hazelnut for each of her suitors and then toss them into a fire. The one that burned into ashes without exploding would be her betrothed. There was also one where all you had to do was drink a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts, and nutmeg before bed on Halloween night, and just like that, you would dream of your future husband.
There you have it, four little tidbits you may not have known about Halloween. Have anything more to add? What do you think of the history of Halloween?
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