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The History of Halloween

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The History of Halloween

Lauren von Aspen, Journalist

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While most people today know halloween as the holiday where kids dress up and go trick-or-treating, Halloween in the past was celebrated very differently. The origins of halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The holiday was between the end of summer, a season associated with life, and winter, a season associated with death. The Celts, who lived almost 2,000 years ago, believed that during Sahmain, the line between life and death was blurred. October 31st was the end of their year and November 1st was their new year. On this new year’s eve, Celts believed the dead returned to the earth.

The spirits were believed to cause damage to crops and cause trouble, but their presence also made it easier for the Celtic priests, Druids, to prophesy the future. Ceremonial bonfires were built during Sahmain as druids dressed in animal skins and heads while attempting predicting the future.

When the Romans conquered the celts around 43 AD, two Roman festivals, Feralia and a festival to honor Pamona, were combined with Sahmain to create a new holiday. Feralia was a holiday that commemorated the passing of the dead, and Pamona was the Roman goddess of fruit, especially apples. The celebration of Pamona is why bobbing for apples is a common Halloween tradition today.

In 609, Pope Boniface IV moved All Saint’s Day to November 1st. All Soul’s Day was declared to be on November 2 and was spread by the Church to Celtic lands, where it began to replace the tradition of Samhain. Many historians believe All Soul’s Day was an attempt by the Church to replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned holiday. All Soul’s Day was celebrated in a similar fashion to Samhain, with large bonfires and parades of people dressed in costumes of angels, devils, and saints. All Saint’s Day was also known as All-Hallows, and the night before (the traditional night of Samhain) was known as All-Hallows eve.

Celebration of Halloween in America was limited at first because of the traditional Protestant belief system. The blending of European and Native American beliefs led to early distinctly American Halloween celebrations including “play parties”, where people celebrated the harvest, told ghost stories, told fortunes, danced, and sang. In the second half of the 19th century, Halloween celebrations were popularized by the many European, especially Irish, immigrants.

Trick or Treating began when children and adults dressed up and went to houses asking for money or food. There was a push to make halloween a more community-centered holiday without anything “frightening” or “grotesque”. Thus, halloween parties became the norm, with attendees playing games and eat seasonal food. The push to make halloween a community holiday took away most of the religious and superstitious overtones of Halloween, and left us with the light-hearted and scare-filled holiday we know today.

Today, halloween is celebrated with jack-o-lanterns (originally intended to scare off evil spirits), costumes (used during Samhain), trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples (Pamona), pranks, bonfires, and the ever-popular halloween party.

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The History of Halloween