Halloween is a unique holiday that we all know because it is the one holiday where we get to dress up as anything we want! However, there is a history to this pageantry. Halloweens origins lie in European history, Catholic religion and the Celtic traditions. Throw these into a blender, mix in some candy, and you have the fall holiday that we know as Halloween in America.
Halloween the name
All-Hallows-Even is the likely precursor to Halloween. Its origins are from Scotland and it is the name for the evening before All Hallows Day.
Celtic lore is probably the most notable of all the influences. The festival known as Samhain involved burning large bonfires. Bones from slaughtered animals and wood would be thrown in the fire as a reminder to take notice of food stores for the coming winter months and also act as a cleansing of people’s souls. Costumes were worn to ward off evil spirits as it was believed this was the time of the year that the gap between the human world and the Otherworld was open to intrusion.
All Saints Day or Hallowmas is held on Nov 1 and is a remembrance of all saints that have died and are in heaven. The holiday is filled with prayer for all relatives who have passed on. It is a reflective and solemn day. Its origins run back to Pope Gregory III who instituted the current date of this celebration.
Modern day Halloween
Today the holiday has lost most of its historical meaning. It still has some of the symbolic imagery left from the past. The black and orange colors that we see used so widely today are representative of the bonfires and dark night from the Celtic traditions. Remembrance of harvest time can still be felt in pumpkins and scarecrows, two widely used items in modern Halloween celebrations.
And of course the costumes of devils, witches, skeletons, etc. are widely employed today. This is not uncommon to what might have been seen in old Celtic times. It is hard to say where the idea of handing out treats came from, but it seems likely it was brought over by irish immigrants who in turn were following something called souling, an activity poor people would do on Hallowmas where they went from door to door begging for food in return for prayers for the dead.
Whatever your religion and however you celebrate, have a happy and safe Halloween!