Origins of Halloween
Celebrated every year for centuries, Halloween “has roots in age-old European traditions,” according to Live Science. Through the years, the event began to spread the season’s customs of gatherings, dressing up, eating sweets throughout the whole world. It eventually came to involve activities we know today such as trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins.
The idea of Halloween can be traced back almost “2,000 years to a pre-Christian Celtic festival held around Nov. 1st called Samhain,” according to Live Science. During this festival, people would light bonfires and put on costumes in order to ward off ghosts. Pope Gregory III appointed November 1 as a way to honor all saints; the day, which soon became known as All Saints Day, “incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain.” The day before All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve, then later Halloween.
John Santino, a folklorist, says, “‘there was a belief that it was a day (Samhain) when spirits of the dead would cross over into the other world. Such moments of transition in the year have always been thought to be special and supernatural.’” Halloween provided everyone a safe way to play on the concept of death.
However, the ancient sagas reveal that Samhain was a time of the year when the tribal people would pay tribute to their conquerors and the sidh (ancient mounds), which “might reveal magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld.” Samhain was more about the changing of the seasons and “preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter” than it was about death and all things evil.
Today’s scholars have not yet found a “direct connection” between Halloween and Samhain, but they believe that All Saint’s Day and Samhain have influenced what we now celebrate every year as Halloween.
However, America did not take part in the tradition until the second half of the 19th Century, when new immigrants, mostly from Ireland, who were escaping the Irish Potato Famine, came over and “popularized” the celebration.