The Long History of Halloween

Halloween is a time most of us enjoy once a year but not many people actually know the history of how modern day Halloween came to be. This festive holiday has a darker history that most people are probably unaware of as they happily celebrate this ghoulish night.  It is also a much anticipated time for retailers since Americans spend $6 billion annually on Halloween making it the second largest revenue generating holiday.It all started 2000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France with a group known as Celts. On the night of October 31st the Celts celebrated Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year. This was believed to be the last day of harvest before a long dark winter. It was also believed that on this night the dead returned to earth. The Celts also believed that since spirits were more prevalent on this   night, it would make it easier for Celtic priests and the Druids to make   predictions regarding the future. The prophecies from the Celtic priests and the Druids helped comfort the Celts for the long dark winter to come. During this night the Druids built large bonfires to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Gods.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory. The Romans also had their version of Halloween. The first day was called Feralia which was a day in late October where the Romans paid respect to the dead. The second day they honored Pomona who was the goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is an apple, which probably correlates with the tradition of bobbing for apples.Halloween pic

Pope Boniface IV wanted a holiday to honor saints and martyrs, so he created All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November 2nd. He was likely trying to replace Samhain with a similar but holier holiday. All Saints Day was later renamed All Hallows. October 31st was a day before All Saints Day so it got renamed again to All Hallows Eve. Then later it was renamed what we call it   nowadays, Halloween.

Here is an interesting contrast. The people who celebrated Samhain wore animal skins to bonfires and the people who celebrated All Souls Day were often dressed as Saints or Angels.

Halloween came to America in the late 1800s when the country was flooded with new immigrants. Millions of Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine in 1846 helped make Halloween popular in America.

So are you wondering when trick-or-treating started and how it evolved? It came from an ancient Celtic tradition of   leaving treats outdoors throughout the night on Samhain to appease the spirits. The first time the term “trick-or-treating” was used in North America was in Blackie, Alberta on November 4th 1927.

Modern day Halloween was made popular here in America in 1952 when Walt Disney portrayed the holiday in the cartoon Trick or Treat. In addition, the famous black and white TV show Ozzie and Harriet broadcast an episode where they were besieged by trick-or-treaters.  It appears this tradition caught on well with American children and adults as well.

Here are some interesting facts from around the world about Halloween. Yue Lan or the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is Hong Kong’s version of Halloween. They celebrate by offering food and and gifts to angry ghosts and lighting fires. Mexico has its own version of Halloween – they call it The Days of the Dead. They celebrate on November 1st and 2nd and on the 2nd the people dress like ghouls and parade down the streets. In case you’re wondering, the largest pumpkin ever was grown by Norm Craven and it weighed 836 pounds!

Little has changed since Halloween was first made popular here in America but it has evolved a lot since its start 2000 years ago.


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