Halloween history dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, approximately 2000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the UK, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1st, a day marking the end of the summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. This was a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Celtic priests (Druids) to make predictions about the future. These people where very dependent on their natural world, and these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
For Halloween history, Druids built sacred bonfires, and people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The night before it began was called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives.
The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
The story of Halloween
goes back over 2000 years to the ancient Celts. Druidic
priests regarded the day as the end of the year. Not only was it their day for celebrating
the year's harvest, but October 31 itself was also the day of Samhain, a festival for
honoring the dead. In order to appease the wandering spirits they believed roamed at
night, the Celtic priests made fires in which they burned sacrifices, made charms, and
of the Celtic holiday
of the dead eventually passed into Christian
culture after the Romans conquered the Celts and tried to bring the Celts into the
"Christian fold." It eventually became apparent to the church leaders that the
Celts, in spite of their conformation to some aspects of Christian culture, were
stubbornly sticking with elements of their old religion.
So, in the seventh century
the church moved its All Saints' Day, a holiday for honoring
early Christian martyrs, from a day in May to November 1, thus associating it with the old
Druid death rituals of October 31. By the tenth century A.D., the Catholic Church had
added a new holiday, All Souls' Day. This day was set aside to honor all of the dead, not
just the early Christian Saints.
Celebration of Halloween
came to America with early Irish
and Scottish immigrants. By then,
though, it had already started to lose its mysterious overtones and was becoming merely a
harvest celebration: a night of bobbing for apples, eating popcorn, and telling ghost
stories around a bonfire. It was already changing into the holiday for children with which
we in the 20th century are so familiar.
Trick or Treating - The story behind trick or treating dates back to the earliest times, when people wore masks when droughts or diseases or other disasters struck. They believed that the hideous masks could frighten off the demons who brought about their misfortunes. The pagan festival of Samhain came at a time of year when the weather was turning chilly and the cold, envious ghosts outside were constantly trying to trick mortals into letting them in by the fire. People who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being recognized.
went on throughout Europe. In parts of England the poor once went to houses singing and begging for soul cakes or money. Until very recently children would dress up as ghosts and goblins to scare the neighbors, but there was no trick or treating. Around 40 years ago people began to offer treats to their costumed visitors Spanish people put cakes and nuts on graves on Halloween, to bribe the evil spirits.
The Irish brought Halloween to America in the 1840's although the custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have its origins in a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" made of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they promised to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. It was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, would expedite a soul's admittance into heaven.
the custom changed and children became the beggars. As they went from house to house they would be given apples, buns, and money and other treats to insure that the ghosts or goblins didn't play tricks.