The History of Halloween

Posted on Oct 15, 2010 under ARCHIVES | 8 Comments

Halloween is just around the corner and I love Halloween!  In celebration I am going to do a series of various fun facts about this very popular holiday!

Halloween (October 31st) is one of the most popular holidays in the U.S. But Halloween has roots dating all the way back to Ancient Celtic practices and eventually Catholic and Roman religious rituals. Halloween eventually evolved into a European folk tradition. All of these various cultures have blended together to form what we now refer to as Halloween.

Halloween falls between the seasons of Fall and Winter and has long been thought to be the day when the dead return to earth. The Celtics would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. They referred to this holiday as Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Catholics referred to it as All Saints’ Day and the Romans called it Ferallia. So, as you can see, Halloween has very ancient roots.

Somewhere in the 19th century, Halloween lost it’s religious connotations for a more “friendly” children’s holiday. Superstitions and beliefs surrounding Halloween have changed, evolved and altered to fit the changing times.

Ancient Halloween:

The Ancient Celtic festival Samhain dates back approximately 2,000 years ago. The Celtic region is now known as Ireland, United Kingdom and northern France.

The Ancients celebrated their new year on November 1st. This marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. They associated Winter with death. The Celtics believed that the night before the new year, the two worlds of the living and dead came together, becoming blurred into one. Ghosts returned to earth, causing strange occurrences and crops dying. The Celtic priests (or Druids) believed they could predict the future at this time. They would build huge bonfires and gather crops and animals to sacrifice to the Celtic deities. They wore costumes of animal heads and skins.

Here Come the Romans:

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory. Over a period of 400 yrs, two Roman festivals were combined with the Celtics Samhain:

Feralia – a late October day commemorated the passing of the dead.

Pomona - in honor of the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona was the apple. It is believed that this is where bobbing for apples derived.

Christianity spread into Celtic lands by the 800s. Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day and it’s believed this was to replace the Celtic festival with a church-sanctioned holiday. The celebrations was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas. The night before was referred to as All-hallowmas Eve and eventually Halloween! In 1000 A.D., the church added November 2nd to the celebrations and called it All Souls’ Day, in honor of the dead. They dressed in costumes as saints, angels and devils. All three days (Eve of All Saints Day, All Saints and All Souls) came together and became known as Hallowmas.

Welcome to America:

As Europeans immigrated to America, they brought their customs for Hallowmas with them. Due to the very rigid beliefs of the Protestants in New England, this custom almost perished. The southern areas of America were not of Puritan beliefs and therefore the European customs and that of the Native Americans meshed together and the American Halloween started to grow.

The first celebrations consisted of parties, various events and The Harvest. People would share stories regarding the dead, tell fortunes, dance and sing. Ghost stories started developing in this time period.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, immigration was on a rise in America. The Irish were fleeing Ireland due to the potato famine of 1846. In Ireland, people celebrated this holiday by going from door to door asking for food and/or money. These traditions caught on in America and the tradition of trick-or-treat evolved.

By the late nineteenth century, Halloween became more of a holiday and community event then about ghosts and witchcraft.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween took off in a big way! Parades and Parties were huge but so was Vandalism! By the 1950s, authorities had curtailed vandalism and moved toward a holiday for the young.

Believe it or not, it is estimated that $6.9 billion dollars are spent on Halloween annually! It is considered the second largest holiday in this country.

I hope you enjoyed this little tidbit on the history of Halloween. Come back soon! I will continue the celebration of Halloween with articles on the Origin of the Jack O Lanterns, a little History about Ghost Stories and some interesting things about Pumpkins!

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8 Responses to “The History of Halloween”

  1. Carol McCrow Says:

    How fascinating Ellen! I’m only halfway through the post and cannot wait to read the rest… It’s so amazing how traditions adapt so often and before long the meanings are so very different from the originals. Thanks for the trivia! Take care

  2. ellent Says:

    Hi Carol! Thank you for taking time out and stopping by to read it! I appreciate it.

  3. Nancy Radlinger Says:

    Oh love reading all the interesting things that you have on your blogs and never dreamed that Halloween would be so interesting and how much I really didn’t know lol – keep up the great work.

    Skype: nancyradlinger

  4. Karen Conley Says:

    Hi Ellen, very interesting facts and info. Altho Halloween is not my favorite holiday I did enjoy reading the history and facts concerning it. Keep up the good work.

  5. ellent Says:

    Hi Nancy, Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read my post. I appreciate it.

  6. ellent Says:

    Hi Karen, Thank you for your comments, I appreciate your stopping by and reading about Halloween. I love Halloween.

  7. Kevan Says:

    Hi there ,
    Thanks for the great post my friend. Interesting read.


  8. ellent Says:

    Thanks so much, Kevan. I love Halloween and enjoy writing about it. I am putting up different articles for Halloween up to the 31st. Thank you so much for your comment.

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