By Jethro Wegener
Halloween these days is about candy, parties, funny costumes (and lots of booze – for those of age that is). However, it wasn’t always this way. Have you ever wondered how Halloween started? Let’s take a look.
It can trace its origins all the way back to the pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in), the Celtic festival of the dead, roughly 2,000 years ago. Celebrated to mark the first day of winter, which fell on November 1st, the Celts believed that on that day, more so than any other, the ghosts of the dead roamed the night and mingled with the living. The festival was a time when people gathered, in costume, around huge sacred bonfires to burn crops and sacrifice animals as offerings to their deities.
It evolved into what we know today when the Christian missionaries tried to change the religions of the Celtic people, believing paganism to be ‘evil’. The Pope introduced ‘All Saints Day’ (a day to honour all Catholic saints) and ‘All Souls Day’ (a day to honour the dead) in the 7th century in an attempt to replace Samhain. The night before ‘All Saints’ was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with bonfires, costumes and parades, and was called All Hallows Eve, which was later shortened to Halloween.
Hundreds of years ago, it was believed that during Samhain, the veil between the living and the departed was at it’s weakest and the dead walked with the living, so people dressed up in scary costumes to fool them into thinking that they were fellow spirits and be left alone.
Over the years, the tradition has evolved from costumes like witches and skeletons to anything under the sun as Halloween has lost its specific association with the dead. Superheroes, animals, and even sexy costumes can be seen nowadays amongst scary ones.
Going around asking for candy can be traced back to when poor people would go around begging for food in return for prayers for the dead on ‘All Souls Day’. This was encouraged by the church in order to replace the practice of leaving food and wine on your doorstep to keep the spirits at bay.
It wasn’t until about the 1940s that ‘trick or treating’ as we know it today came about, when Irish immigrants brought it to the US and children would go from house to house asking for candy. If they didn’t get any candy, the children would then play a ‘trick’ or ‘prank’ on the occupant of the house, usually along the lines of throwing eggs at their home.
The practice of carving pumpkins has its roots in an old Celtic myth. The legend tells of a drunkard named Jack, who tricked the devil into agreeing not to come for his soul when he died. However, due to his selfishness, Jack was turned away from the gates of Heaven as well. Doomed to wander purgatory for eternity, Jack used a lantern to guide his lost soul.
The Celts believed that placing ‘Jack-o-Lanterns’, or carved, hollowed-out pumpkins, outside their homes would guide the lost souls of the dead, while the scary faces would scare away the evil spirits. Over time, the pumpkin has evolved into a one of the most recognised symbols for Halloween.
Over the years, Halloween has gone from being a superstitious Pagan festival honouring the dead, to a Christian festival honouring the Saints, until today, when it’s an excuse for parties, costumes and candy. It has been a long evolution of over hundreds of years.
Big parts of Halloween today are the thrills and chills. Scaring yourself silly can be great fun, for those of us that enjoy it. Whether or not you enjoy it, we hope you have a happy Halloween!