Sunday is Halloween, and the frightfest has trick-or-treaters checking the Web for the history of the haunted holiday.
Turns out, the modern-day tradition of outfitting yourself in a costume and going door to door for candy has some really ancient roots.
Originally, the festival came from the Celtic holiday Samhain, which means summer’s end, and celebrated the end of fall and the beginning of winter. This day also marked the Celts’ version of the new year — and the time, they believed, when the dead came back to roam the earth. (Insert spooky music here.)
Ancestors were honored, but evil spirits were warded off by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to hide from them. Turnips carved with faces got placed in windows to scare off the unwelcome undead. People would go “a-souling,” and in exchange for food and drink, pray for a household’s dead relatives. In Scotland, spirits were impersonated by men wearing all white with veiled faces.
The holiday is actually a mash of Catholic and Celtic beliefs. Oh, and Roman. Their version of the Celtic holiday was called Feralia, which honored their dead. The Catholics — who were beginning to influence the area by the 800s — contributed All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas. The name “Halloween” comes from the Scottish “All-Hallows-Even,” meaning “the night before All Hallows Day.”
By the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants brought Halloween to America. By the 1950s, candy makers began promoting their sweet stuff as the currency to give out to trick-or-treaters, and this year it’s estimated to be a $2 billion candy bonanza. The religious ideas have been dropped, and the day as we know it — dressing up, carving pumpkins, and getting a good scare … and goodies — became the holiday it is now.
Wikepedia History of Halloween
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)”. The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”. A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced Kálan Gái av).
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.
Another common practice was divination, which often involved the use of food and drink.