Halloween, a time of doing the unthinkable by dressing up as anything you can imagine, knocking on random doors for candy, eating that whole pound of candy and throwing up the next day. However there are other ways to celebrate the 31st of October formally known as Halloween. A few of these ways range from going out and enjoying festivals or parties to staying at home with your family. But do you know what Halloween was once called? Or why it was originally celebrated?
Halloween first started around 2,000 years ago in Ireland as a Pre-Christian Celtic holiday as a way for them to honor the dead. On this day, they believed the boundary between the world of the living and the dead was at its thinnest point allowing for spirits to pass between life and death and walk again with the living. Samhain, meaning the first day of November, was the name of the day following Halloween which signified the end of the harvest season. They also honored this day to the Saints after some complications between the Christians about worshipping demonic spirits. It also serves reason as to why the Celtics continued the festivities through November 2nd. Going back to Halloween, its name originated based off of November 1st. Known as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, the day prior which they also celebrated (October 31st) became All Hallows Eve thus becoming Halloween.
Bobbing for Apples, Dressing Up, and Trick-or-Treating oh my!
Yes there are reasons for these silly acts on this holiday in particular, and no they did not just pop up out of the blue.
Bobbing for apples on Halloween originally started as a way to honor Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees, as a way to give thanks in her efforts of the harvest season. Her symbol was commonly known as an apple hence why it is apples we bobb for and not corn or some other food.
Dressing up can be interpreted into two ways by the Celtics. One of which was used as a way to honor the spirits by dressing in costumes consisting of animal heads and skins and having bonfires with religious sacrifices of animals and crops. The second way in which it can be interpreted is wearing masks to trick ghosts into believing them for fellow spirits so they would not bother them.
Trick-or-treating in the essence of leaving out bowls of candy is another thing influenced from previous cultures dating back to European roots. Winter for them was a scary time due to lack of food and fears of the dark. As a way to satisfy the ghosts and prevent them from entering homes, they would place bowls of food outside their door.
Halloween in America
Halloween in America formed based on different European ethnic groups along with American Indians bringing out the distinct American version of Halloween. At first, celebrations consisted celebrating the end of the harvest season, but by the nineteenth century, festivities were common however it was not celebrated everywhere. In the late 1800’s, there was a big boom in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get togethers rather than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft. Parents were advised strongly to remove anything thought to be scary or grotesque out of the celebrations. This urge caused a loss of religious feeling of the holiday by the twentieth century.
The Spread of Halloween
So now you may be wondering, if Halloween originated in Ireland/Northern Europe, how did it get to the Americas? After the Irish Potato Famine, many became immigrants and went to the Americas which increased population size. Their culture and traditions were brought over and spread like wildfires throughout the Americas giving some of our well known customs we have now.
Problems with this holiday?
Of course there were problems, what’s a holiday without some dilemmas? The Celtic holiday worried the Christian missionaries about worshipping evil and demonic spirits. Rather than destroying a complete holiday, an agreement was made where they would honor the dead on All Hallows Eve and honor the Saints on All Saints Day.
There were problems even in America! Due to America’s strong Christian beliefs, the holiday was not celebrated for quite some time. Many Christians still expressed concerns about Halloween being satanic due to roots of pagan rituals. But the Celtics did not worship anything resembling the Christian devil nor had any concept of it. By the time the Catholic Church began persecuting witches in search of satanic worshipping groups, the festival or Hollows had long vanished.
How is Halloween Celebrated Today?
Halloween is now known as the second largest commercial holiday in America, now that may not be huge but it is still a pretty big deal. Not only is it celebrated in America, the Irish still celebrate this holiday even giving children the week off of school since it is such a big honkin deal. Mostly all of the Latin countries still celebrate this day as well. It is known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. The celebration is an approximate three days long honoring those of friends and family that have died. As you can tell, not only have the efforts to end this holiday have failed, but this holiday has major importance in our history.
Connections in Previous Readings
How does this connect to my prior knowledge of other cultures and things I’ve learned in class? Well, by 43 A.D., the Roman Empire conquered Celtic territory and ruled an approximate 400 years. From this ruling, two Roman Festivals were combined with the Celtics celebration of Samhain. These two festivals occur in the late October and they are honoring the goddess that bears fruit which I had previously mentioned and remembering those that passed in that year. The spread of Christianity into Celtic lands began to blend in with older Celtic Rites. The connection here can be made to the Romans who conquered many lands and began the religion of Christianity.
Another connection can be made between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox of Christianity. The main split between these two was many conflicts about the religion and what they should believe, also known as the Great Schism. This connects to Halloween because many people believed the Church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church sanctioned related holiday and some people believe that the relationship was mutual and the deal was appropriate creating a split between beliefs.
What started as a Pre-Christian Celtic holiday honoring the end of the harvest season and the bond between life and death at it’s thinnest has now become a holiday of dressing up, receiving candy, and having fun with friends and family. Many of these traditions started all from different ethnic groups that combined together to form the Halloween we know today. So no matter how you celebrate it, whether it is by dressing up as your favorite character, sitting down with a big bowl of candy, or honoring those that have died, Halloween is embraced in many forms, accepted in many forms, and plays a big role for history in many forms.