Halloween has a few theories on its origins, but today, it is thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from Celtic-speaking countries such as Ireland and Scotland. Most would say it comes from the Celtic festival of Samhain – meaning “summer’s end”. To recognize the end of summer and the beginning of winter, the festival began in the evening and went throughout the night (the half point between equinox and solstice). Since the “darker” part of the year was beginning – they believed that the barrier between our world and another world was thinner, thus, we were closer to spirits, fairies, etc. Therefore, their traditions included offering food, drinks and crops to the spirits (specifically Aos Sí) outside their homes to ensure their livestock would survive the winter as well as playing games such as fortune-telling. They would also create “special” bonfires and have rituals around them, this was their version of magic – by imitating the suns power. The flames, smoke and ashes were believed to have protective and cleansing powers. These were later deemed to keep away the devil himself. Lastly, people would dress up as “Aos Sí” which is how the spirit received it’s offerings and is said to have protected the people from it.
Today’s version of Halloween is said to have a large Christian influence. November 2nd (later switched to Nov 1 the same day as Samhain) was known as All Hallows’ Day which was a day to celebrate those that had recently departed and honor the saints. Thus, making the day prior “All Hallows’ Eve”. On All Hallow’s Day, the church bells would ring for those souls in purgatory and people who were mourning would dress in black and parade the streets. “Souling” was another popular custom done during these days, they would bake and share “soulcakes” for all christened souls. Groups of the poor and of children would go door to door to collect the soulcakes in exchange for prayer of the dead. Lastly, All Hallows’ Day was known to be the last remaining day for those souls in purgatory to avenge their enemies before passing on. Therefore, people would dress in costume in the hopes of not being recognized by those that may want to avenge them. This is thought to be the origin of modern day “trick-or-treating”.
Lastly, they would carry hallowed out lit turnips with them which is believed to be what our jack-o-lantern tradition is derived from. These lights were said to represent the dead, guide returning souls to their homes, and deflect demons from your home.
Now that we have delved into the spooky history of Halloween, let’s ease your mind with some fun facts!
1) During the Samhain festival, they were known to throw cats into a fire as a part of the divination proceedings, giving cats a permanent place in Halloween folklore.
2) A child born on Halloween is said to have powers to speak to the dead! Anyone born on Halloween!?
3) The average bag of candy that a child collects will contain 11,000 calories!
4) Americans spent almost a half billion dollars on pet costumes last year! Is your pet dressing up?
5) The first Halloween celebration in the US happened in 1921 right here in Minnesota! Anoka, MN was the first city-wide celebration of Halloween that was created to keep the teenagers busy!
What are your favorite Halloween traditions? Comment below!