It is that time of year again, autumn has come, the shops are full of Halloween decorations and sweets and chocolates. England has seen a growth in the popularity of Halloween over the past decade, but it has been a well celebrated event in the United States from as early as the 1930s. It has a very long history and originates from the Celts. Halloween derives its name from All-Hallows Eve which was they day before All Saints Day (All-Hallows) a Christian festival.
Halloween comes from the pagan festival Samhain, which the Celts celebrated on what was their New Year Eve, October 31st. Samhain marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter which brought the evil spirits. The Celts believed that on this night, the barrier between our world and the spirit world was at its weakest and the spirits would return to the earth. They built bonfires and in England carved out faces in the turnips to warn off the evil spirits. The festival was celebrated by lighting bonfires and sacrificing crops and animals. The bonfire was also believed to protect them during the winter months.
Samhaim was officially recognised as All Hallows Eve by Pope John 14th in 1006. November 1st was known as All Saints Day or All-Hollows and the following day, November 2nd was celebrated as All Souls Day to honour the dead. The three festivals together were called Hallowmans.
The Celts believed the spirits of the dead would possess people’s bodies. They dressed up in scary costumes to ward off evil spirits from taking their body. When the Irish moved to America in the 1840s they brought this custom with them. And now children dress up in all sorts of costumes, from cute little fairies to blood thirsty vampires and knock on neighbours doors going “trick or treating”.
Now, the history of trick or treating, actually comes from a mixture of different origins. One was the Celts, who believed the devil would play tricks on the living so they gave them food when they visited their homes. The ninth-century Europeans had a custom called souling. On All Saints Day, Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes” – pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes a beggar received, the more prayers they promised to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. People strongly believed at that time that the dead remained in limb and that prayers could send the soul’s passage to heaven. Lastly, the Irish peasant practice was to go door to door to get money, cheese, eggs, butter apples in preparation the festival St Columb Kill.
With commercialism, Halloween has thrived in the United States with thousands of children trick or treating, parading about in a variety of costumes. It is now the second most popular holiday after Christmas for decorating and sales of sweets.