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The Haunting History of Halloween

October 19, 2017

 Have you ever found yourself pondering why it’s acceptable to talk to any, and all, strangers once a year, all while hiding your true identity under a mask? Well, I have.

 

Halloween has a rich history, with several influences worldwide. If you would like to learn more, continue reading! To keep this history lesson fun, I will be sprinkling facts and trivia about Halloween throughout. And without further adieu, let’s dive right into the pumpkin.

 

According to gizmodo.com, some animal shelters forbid the adoptions of all black cats (and occasionally, all white cats) on Halloween, in fear that they will be used for sacrifice.

 

Originally, Halloween was called "All Hallows Evening" and through the centuries contracted into the name we know today.

 

Halloween’s origins start with the Celtic Festival of "Samhain" (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ SAH-win, and meaning ‘end of summer’). During Samhain, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off evil spirits. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 

Those who celebrated Samhain believed the year started on November 1st. October 31st marked the end of summer and the harvest, as well as the beginning of winter, which was often associated with human death.

 

Celts believed that the 31st blurred the line between the realm of the living and the dead. Meaning, the dead roamed the Earth. These spirits were said to damage crops and cause mischief but allowed for Druids (Celtic Priests) to better predict the future, an important aspect of their culture.

 

To commemorate these events, Druids created huge bonfires, where people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to Celtic deities. As aforementioned, participants wore costumes, but these outfits were much different than today. These garments consisted of animal skins and skulls. Sometimes these get-ups would represent various gods of nature.

 

At some point in the celebration, the bonfire is put out; however, it is re-lit before the end. This was to help protect them during the coming winter.

 

Along with Samhain, the Celts would harvest all their crops and store them the same day. The Druids would meet at hilltops generally in dark oak forests’ to perform a miniature Samhain among themselves.

 

The next day, November 1st, the Druids would give a hot ember from the fire to each family, who would then use them to start new cooking fires. These fires were said to repel bad spirits.

 

According to the huffingtonpost.com, Halloween is more Irish than St. Patrick's Day. They quote Philip Freeman as saying, “St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans.”

 

Around the 9th century, the Christian influence had spread through Celtic lands. The church eventually would make November 1st "All Souls Day," a day to honor the dead. This day is believed to have been created to replace the Celtic festival.

 

All Souls Day clearly took inspiration from Samhain, utilizing huge bonfires, parades, and dressing up as saints, angels, and devils. The night before All Saints Day came to be known as "All Hallows Eve" and eventually, Halloween.

 

The celebration of Samhain featured the dead as a common theme, which clearly wasn’t Christianity. The Church decided to change that aspect in particular by having people dressed as saints, go from door to door, and beg for food for the poor.

 

One quarter of all candy sold in the U.S. per year is bought for Halloween, according to history.com.

 

Halloween eventually traveled to America via the settlers. Though, it didn’t transfer directly or instantly. In the beginning, any celebration with relation to the Catholic Church was generally frowned upon.

 

America would go on to create "Fall Play Parties," where people would gather to tell ghost stories, dance, sing, feast, and light bonfires. And oftentimes, schools would host pageants, where students would dress in costumes and parade around. These parties only lasted until the Industrial Revolution, which created cities. Because of this, people decided they no longer needed these get togethers.

 

Through the middle of the nineteenth century, fall festivals and activities were still common, but Halloween wasn’t quite there yet.

 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with immigrants, many of whom were Irish, fleeing the potato famine. And with them, they brought Halloween.

 

Halloween became a childish thing, and people would hand out candies to avoid tricks played upon their property. And thus, we have Halloween!

 

Witches have been associated with Halloween for a long time. One Halloween story tells the tale of a priest roaming the country when he came across a gathering of people around a bonfire. According to the priest's accusation, the people were flying, which led him to the conclusion that they were witches.

 

You are now aware of the basic history of Halloween, but you may still be wondering as to why trick or treating became as big as it is, or perhaps why we carve pumpkins. Lucky for you, I did the research for you! More learning! Hooray!

 

"Trick or Treating" came from the Irish. People would dress in costumes and go house to house begging for food or money. It was believed that young women could find the name of their true love on Halloween by doing tricks with yarn, apple scraps, or mirrors.

 

One tradition, carried over from All Souls Day were "Souls Cakes," made from bread and currant toppings. Children would go door to door to receive these cakes. For every cake they received, the children would sing a song for the dead. The song would help the dead cross from purgatory into heaven.

 

Halloween colors are orange and black because orange is associated with the fall, and black is associated with death, says Halloween Web.

 

And where did Jack-O-Lanterns come from? Well, I’m glad you asked. They came from the Irish.

 

The Irish believe in a character named Stingy Jack. The story of Jack is that he made many deals with the devil, of which he cheated his way out every time. When Jack eventually died, he was denied heaven and hell, and he was forced to roam the living world as a ghost. Jack would carry a burning ember in a hollowed out turnip as a makeshift lantern, and as legend has it, you can see his turnip on Halloween night.

 

People began carving turnips and lighting the insides in hopes this would deter Stingy Jack. When the Irish came to America, they brought this tradition; however, pumpkins became more widely used as they were more accessible.

 

According to Factretreiver.com, the word "witch" comes from the Old English word wicce meaning, "wise woman." These women were held in regards at the time.

 

I hope you found this article interesting! That’s it for now. Stay spooky, Cavalier Nation!


*Note: the author used information from pumpkinpatchesandmore.org and history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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