Halloween is here, time for spooky costumes and candy! But why do we do this? Why do we dress up, knock on strangers’ doors, and get free candy? It all started more than 2000 years ago, in Britain and Ireland.
At this time, a group of people called the Celts resided there. November 1 was an important date for them, since it marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.
To celebrate, they had a huge festival on October 31 called Samhain.
During Samhain, the Celts would have all sorts of celebrations, including a bonfire where they would sacrifice crops and livestock to the gods to ensure a good winter. They would also dress up in animal skins and hides during the festivities.
The Celts believed that during Samhain, ghosts, goblins, fairies, and other supernatural creatures roamed the earth. To keep them away, they would leave food outside their houses.
When Romans conquered Britain, certain Roman holidays merged with Celtic culture:
- Feralia, which honored the dead.
- The feast of Pomona, which honored the goddess of fruit orchards and the harvest.
After Christianity became Rome’s main religion, the Celts all converted. However, they continued to celebrate Samhain and worship the old gods.
To get them to stop, the Pope replaced Samhain with Christian holidays, like All Souls’ Day (a day to honor the dead) on November 2, All Saints’ Day (a day to honor martyrs) on November 1, and All Hallows’ Eve on October 31. All Hallows’ Eve was eventually shortened to the “Halloween” we use today.
“Hallows” meant “Saints” in Old English, and “Eve” or “Een” meant evening. So Halloween literally meant “the evening before All Saints’ Day”. All our customs of Halloween like costumes and candy evolved over the centuries.
Here’s some major Halloween traditions explained:
Trick or Treating
The practice of putting food out for the supernatural beings roaming the earth October 31 had evolved into something called “souling”.
Beggars would go door to door Halloween, promising to pray for the souls of the dead in return for food. People believe that souling was the origin of trick-or-treating.
In Ireland, people began dressing up as goblins and ghosts to blend in with the supernaturals, giving birth to the costume tradition.
The Irish also began carving scary faces out of turnips, gourds, and potatoes to scare away the mischievous goblins and ghosts. This seems to be the origin of jack-o-lantern carvings.
Bobbing for Apples
Pomona’s symbol is an apple, so it’s believed that’s where bobbing for apples began.
When these people emigrated to different countries, they brought their traditions with them. Then, before you know it, children (and sometimes teens and adults!) are going around dressing up and trick-or-treating on Halloween night.
Hope you learned something new about the spooky holiday that is Halloween. Til next time!