Halloween dates back well over 6,000 years to the ancient fire festival of Samhain. Celts celebrated this day on November 1st — this is their New Year marking the end of Summer and the 3rd and final harvest of the season.
November Eve was believed to be the veil between realms — the veil so thin that the ghosts and the dead came back into our world. During this time, Celtic Priests made predictions about the future and people found these prophecies important sources of comfort and direction during a long, dark, harsh winter. Costumes were worn, fortune telling was told as well as story telling. The hearth was extinguished early on November Eve and re-lit from the sacred bonfire to protect them during the coming winter.
By 43 A.D. Romans conquered most of Celtic territories, but not without a good fight! Within the course of 400 years, two Roman festivals were combined Feralia — a commemoration of the passing of the dead — and a day to honor Pomona the Goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple which is how bobbing for apples became incorporated into Samhain.
By the 800’s Christianity spread through Celtic lands and Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints Day to honor all saints and martyrs. The Pope at this time was trying to replace the Celtic festivals with a related, but church sanctioned holiday.
Then around 1000 A.D. the church made November 2nd All Soul’s Day which was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, dressing in costumes as saints, angels, and devils…together these celebrations were called Hallowmas.
Halloween Comes to America
As Europeans came over with their different costumes, beliefs and ethnic groups as well as American Indian beliefs, a distinct American version of Halloween was born. Play parties, apple bobbing,celebrating the harvests, neighbors sharing stories of the dead, fortune telling, dancing, singing, bonfires…etc.
By 1846, America was flooded with Irish immigrants fleeing from deadly potato plague…this blended an Irish-American tradition of dressing up in costumes and going house to house asking for food or money…you guessed it, this is where Trick or Treating comes from.
What started as festivals celebrating the harvests and the dearly departed has since become largely a holiday fostering community and neighborhood goodwill.
Have a Happy Halloween!
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