Do you celebrate Halloween? Or do you just go to the cemetery to visit the graves of your dead relatives on the “Day of the Dead” or “All Saints’ Day”? In the USA and Ireland, Halloween is one of the loudest festivities of the year with lots of fun, it is a time of silent remembering in many countries of the Western world.
Halloween fun is coming into newer and newer areas of the world. And, of course, it is good business, so business makes more and more people like it. Shopping for spooky costumes, trick-or-treating, parties, Halloween decorations and special foods fill many pockets.
But where does this holiday come from and how did it become so loud and fun? This patchwork holiday mixes religious and occult traditions with a truly modern lifestyle.
Many Halloween traditions come from ancient Celtic harvest festivals. But some researches think that Halloween has older, Roman roots. Pomona is the Roman goddess of fruits and seeds. People organised big feasts (celebrations of eating drinking) for the goddess. The Roman festival of the dead, Parentalia is also a little similar to Halloween. But these festivals were at a completely different time of the year: Pomona’s feast was in August and Parentalia, when families remembered their dead, was in February.
The origin of many Halloween traditions is in old Celtic harvest festivals. The most important one is the Gaelic festival Samhain, (meaning “summer’s end”). People celebrated Samhain in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There was a similar festival at the same time of year in Wales, Cornwall and other parts of Brittany.
The end of October is the time of the last harvest of the year and also half point between the longes and the shortest day of the year, the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.
This was the time of the Celtic New Year, and people thought of it as a time between years, when the border between our world and the Otherworld was the thinnest. A magical time when spirits and fairies walked the Earth.
People believed that the souls of the dead came back to their old homes and wanted welcome from their living relatives. People left places for their dead by the dinner table and the fire. They put out food and drink for them.
People in many cultures around the world have believed since the ancient times that the souls of the dead return home on one night of the year and their relatives have to treat them nicely.
The Catholic Church, naturally, was not a fan of Pagan traditions. Their tactic was to introduce a similar Christian celebration at the same time as Samhain. In the 7th century, the Vatican “mixed” Samhain with a godly holiday: All Saint’s Day (Allhallowtide, Hallowmas) and it became a time for paying respect to the saints and praying for the souls of the people who have died recently. Both festivals were about remembering the dead, so it was easier for people to change to the Christian tradition.
Modern day traditions in the New World
Lots and lots of Irish and Scottish people moved to the USA in the 19th century. The Scottish and the Irish brought their traditions with them, and this is how Halloween became an important holiday in North America. Pranks (tricking other people) became the most popular Halloween custom in the New World. In the 1930s pranks became really bad, they fell into the category of hooliganism and vandalism. The most popular prank was stealing gates, for example. If the owner of the house gave the young pranksters treats (sweets and fruits), they did not do anything horrible to their house. And people wanted to keep their house safe, so giving pranksters treats soon became a tradition. This is how the holiday greeting became “Trick or treat”.