The Chilling History of Halloween

Halloween is a spooky holiday with a storied past. By Ruth Edna Kelley - The Book of Hallowe'en entry at The Project Gutenberg., Public Domain.

Halloween is a spooky holiday with a storied past. By Ruth Edna Kelley - The Book of Hallowe'en entry at The Project Gutenberg., Public Domain.

Alexis Herrington, Feature Editor

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The roots of Halloween go all the way back to the Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago where Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France are currently located. Every November 1st, they celebrated the festival of Samhain. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter and the colder months. The Celts believed that on this day, the boundary between the dead and the living blurred, and the ghosts of the dead came back to visit.

The Celts believed that on this day with the presence of the spirits, the Celtic priests – also called Druids – could more easily make predictions about the winter and how it would go for the Celts. The winter was a dark, risky time, and in consequence Samhain was thought of as a very important day. In celebration of this event, Druids built large bonfires intended for sacrificing animals and valuables. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes made out of animal skins because they believed it would help them hide from ghosts.

Later, when the Romans took over Celtic land, two Roman holidays were combined with the Celtic holiday of Samhain. The first was Ferella, the Romans’s day of honoring the dead. The second was a day in honor of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

In the eighteenth century, thanks to Pope Gregory the third, this celebration was turned into All Saints Day, designated to honoring all those who have died and gone to heaven in the Christian faith. The evening before it was called All Hallows Eve, later turning into Halloween. Halloween has slowly cultivated its own traditions that are celebrated to this day.

A Halloween postcard from the early 20th century, reflecting the modern view of the holiday. Via creative commons.

The very name “Halloween” is connected to All Saints Day. The first part, “hallow,” means holy person, and is in reference to saints. The second part, “een,” simply means eve. Essentially, Halloween means the night before All Saints Day.

Eventually, the serious tone of Samhain gradually turned into a more light-hearted one. The rituals of connecting to the dead turned, instead, into the idea of telling the future. Activities and games such as bobbing for apples were incorporated.

The tradition of going door-to-door that so many children enjoy today stems from the past tradition where people dressed up as saints and went door-to-door, reciting songs and verses. Children also went door to door, asking for “soul cakes.” Soul cakes were originally a tradition which was part of All Souls Day.

When Halloween came to colonial America, it was rejected in New England because of the Protestant belief systems there. It was more celebrated in areas such as Maryland and the southern colonies. Eventually, the day of Halloween spread to be celebrated nationwide.

Today, Halloween is a holiday loved and celebrated by children, teens, and adults in many countries across the globe.