Halloween history

How Halloween Came To Be: A Brief History

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 Kenny Muzzey

Halloween is but a few days away, in the opinions of many, one of the greatest “non-holidays” of the year and for good reason! Every year thousands of children prowl the streets shrouded in darkness, dressed as ghoulish creatures in search of candy, much like how a zombie roams about searching for the flesh of the living. Every house the children encounter, the signature phrase “trick-or-treat” is shout and the candy is dropped into their possession. Conversely, thousands stumble about and pack into crowded bars, drinks are served, costume contests are held, and a hauntingly good time is had by all.

Ever wonder how this strange tradition began and changed over the years? It is believed that Halloween begun as an archaic Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celtic calendar marks the beginning of the New Year as November first. Much like the fall season here, the Celtic people’s New Year was symbolic of the end of summer, the conclusion of the harvest, and the start of the winter, a season many associated with death.

It was thought that during this transitional period, New Year’s Eve, the confines between the realms the living and the dead would become unclear. As a result the Celts presumed that between these blurred lines the spirits of the dead would reappear on earth. Whilst on the earthly plane the mischievous ghosts would destroy crops, run amuck, and partake in various other troublesome activities. With the presence of supernatural beings, the Druids, Celtic priests, often found it easier to forecast the future to the peoples who, like most ancient and modern civilizations, were dependent very highly on the natural world.

The Druids, in celebration would create mammoth bonfires in which the Celts would sacrificially burn both animals and crops as a patronage to their gods. Those who attended the event would be wearing animal heads and skins while participating in fortune telling.  As the event began peoples would snuff out their household fires in lieu of the gigantic fires to come, following the conclusion of the celebration they would relight their fireplaces as preparation for the bone chilling months to come.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, the areas in which the Celts had resided, the two systems of beliefs had started to meld. Pope Gregory the third had added to the Catholic holiday of All Martyrs Day, a day dedicated to Christian martyrs, by including all saints in addition to martyrs. This tradition, All Saints’ Day, was moved from the thirteenth of May, to the first of November. It is widely accepted as a fact that the church had
 wished to replace the Celtic festival of Samhain, with an officially sanctioned church holiday.

Later, November second would become known as “All Souls’ Day,” which was a day bestowed upon the people to celebrate the dead. The way All Souls’ Day had been celebrated bared a high resemblance to the festival of Samhain, parades, fires, and, of course, costumes. All Saints’ Day, again, November first, was referred to as “All-hallows,” and October thirty-first, the night before, was referred to as “All-hallows Eve”. All-hallows Eve would become known as Halloween.

Halloween had not widely been celebrated in the thirteen original colonies due to the inflexible teachings of the Protestant upbringing. As the young American melting pot began, immigrants had a huge role in promoting Halloween celebrations. In particular, the Irish people had a large part in this, as the Celts had resided primarily within the United Kingdom. Threads of Irish, English, and even Native American traditions were all wound into the fabric that later became known as Halloween. Early Halloween events included what were deemed “play parties,” which again, were public displays celebrating the harvest, often times residents of the area would share ghost stories, and others would run around playfully causing trouble. The earliest form of “trick-or-treating” started when Americans would dress in costumes and, yes, you guessed it, go door to door asking for either food or money. It is believed that this custom came from an All Souls Day custom where those stricken with poverty would beg for food, usually a pastry called “soul cakes,” in exchange for praying for the deceased of the family who had given the foodstuffs.

As Halloween popularized over the years it became less about fortune telling, witchcraft, and pranks and more about the communities. In the early 1900’s Halloween had become an event that was celebrated within the community by both children and adults alike.  Halloween is a tradition that, to this very day, is still highly popular and vastly celebrated.

Don't forget that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month! I have been working with the ladies from Scoobies for Boobies to help raise donations for the Keep A Breast Foundation. If you haven't already, please visit the ladies over at Scoobies for Boobies!

You can visit our friends Scoobies for Boobies on their blog, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Or if you wish to make a donation check out to the Keep A Breast Foundation. Additionally, Scoobies for Boobies hosts a store that sells shirts, hoodies, vinyl decals, as well as other merch.

Thanks again to Scoobies for Boobies, and you, the readers here on HalfStack!

~Kenny Muzzey~
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