The History of Halloween

Halloween Haunted House

The clock chimes. It is 6:00 pm on October 31st. Children rush out the door, dressed to the nines as ghouls and goblins. They swoop down on neighborhoods that are armed and ready; armed with candy that is. The children know that if they just holler 'trick-or-treat' they will receive that candy.

The adults hurry off to parties. They resemble movie stars and film characters. Sometimes they stick their heads in a barrel of water and bob for apples. But why do they do this? What rituals have these traditions stemmed from? In essence, why do we celebrate Halloween?

There are many variations to the same story, but ultimately it began many years ago with the Celts who lived in present-day Ireland. For them, November 1st marked the end of the summer harvest, and the beginning of the dark and cold winter. They believed that on the night between these two events, the dead were able to come from their realm and walk the earth again. It was also believed that during this time the druids could tell the future more easily; therefore the druids would dress up using animal heads and skins and attempt to tell each others fortunes, while the people dressed up in ghoulish costumes hoping to scare away the cruel spirits that came to wreak havoc on the earth.

After the Romans conquered the Celts they merged some of their traditions with the Celtic traditions. One of these was the worship of the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. It is theorized that the tradition of bobbing for apples stemmed from this worship.

Christianity eventually spread into the Celtic lands. Pope Boniface IV created a new holiday for November 1st, one that resembled the Celtic festival of the dead, but was church-sanctioned. He named it All Saints Day. It was also known as All-Hallows or All-Hallowsmas. The night before this day came to be known as All-Hallows Eve, which eventually became Halloween.

The tradition of giving candy at the door stems from a few sources. The first is, of course, the Celts. The druids would receive food from the country folk to give to the cruel spirits that created chaos and fear on the night the realm of the dead was opened.

The seconds stems from the Irish. The peasants would go from door to door collecting food, money, etc for their festival of St. Columb Kill. The third tradition comes from the ninth-century European custom of 'souling'. For the Europeans, November 2 was All Souls Day. The poor peasants would go from door to door and receive 'soul cakes' from the wealthy in exchange for prayers for their dead relatives. It was believed that the dead remained between worlds for a time, and prayer from anyone helped them move on faster.

Ultimately, like most holidays, the celebration of Halloween stemmed from peoples and beliefs that were on the earth hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. The traditions therein come from many different sources, but have been combined to create the festivities for this holiday. Today, Halloween is celebrated not out of fear of the dead, but because it is fun. It is a time when adults can take on a different persona; when children can wander the neighborhood in search of free candy.

But the spirit of Halloween still remains. People dress up as frightening creatures; they give candy as 'offerings' to the children; and some even follow the tradition of the old Celts dead and play tricks on others. So this Halloween, watch out! You never know what little creature will have a tiny trick up his sleeve.

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