The Origins of Halloween

Hey boo-tiful, it’s almost Halloween! Most people enjoy this spooky holiday that’s filled with lots of candy, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, dressing in costume, and more! I must say it’s one of my favorite holidays, because it’s a time for all ages to have a blast. But it’s easy to forget that Halloween wasn’t always the way we see it in modern day. We know it’s a tradition. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t heard of Halloween. But do you know where it came from or how it began? 

It originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-en), where people in the community come together and wear costumes in an effort to ward off ghosts and practice their rituals by dancing around a bonfire. This festival originated 2,000 years ago in Celtic Ireland, but was also observed in Scotland and the Isle of Man. The purpose of the annual festival was to celebrate the change of year between summer (end of harvest season) and winter (the darker half of the year). The word Samhain comes from the Gaelic word samain, with “Sam” meaning sumer and “fruin” meaning end, which literally translates to “Summer’s End.” It also served the purpose of allowing families to clean out their homes and declutter to prepare for the new year. The celebration, which is still practiced today by various religious groups begins on October 31st at sunset and continues until November 1st.

Historically they slaughtered pigs and threw their bones in the bonfire as well as crops as a sacrifice to the Celtic deities. They did this to share their food with Celtic Gods and Goddesses of the harvest yields and crops. They gave thanks to them and asked for their continued support and blessings in the winter months to follow. In very early times, they sacrificed prisoners captured during a significant ‘New Year’s’ battle. These fires were extremely sacred and cleansing of the old year. Rituals they practiced allowed spirits to pass through as needed. One of the reasons they wore costumes was to honor the dead who were allowed to rise. Spirits that were trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead to their new incarnation. These spirits were believed to be fairies, plant spirits, or pagan gods (not belonging to any particular religion.) Ancestors were invited to return while evil or feared spirits were warded off through the use of scary masks, which were supposed to make these people appear as evil spirits. Some spirits were feared because they were believed to have the ability to hide livestock, ruin crops (or even cause drought,) and haunt the living who had wronged them. Food was prepared for the living and the dead.

In some of the dances they focused on the cycle of the Wheel of Life, which has various evolved meanings. Many of the dances told stories or played out the cycle of life and death. Celtic Shamans told people of the village their fortunes through psychic readings. They utilized diverse divination tools like casting spells or throwing bones. When the local celebration finally ended, community members lit a torch from the sacred bonfire and re-lit their homes that had been extinguished at the beginning of the festival. This was to ensure protection of their dwelling by their deities for the upcoming winter months. The Hindu Diwali “Festival of the Lights” celebration occurs at about the same time of year and also regards this time as the mark of a new year. 

So where did trick-or-treating and the name Halloween come from? In England, there’s a festival called “All Soul’s Day” where families would give poor people who begged for food something called “soul cakes.” They did this upon the returned favor of the poor people praying for the family’s dead ancestors. Before this, England copied the tradition of the Celtics and left food and drinks outside their doorsteps to appease evil spirits. Soon, the church encouraged to replace that tradition with the passing out of soul cakes. This eventually led to children traveling door to door to receive soul cakes and money. At this time, the Pope attempted to replace the Celtic festival with a Godly holiday, and this spread rapidly, so the name evolved. It was then referred to as All Hallow’s Eve, which turned into Halloween. 200 years later, the Christian church made November 1st All Saint’s Day, decided by Pope Boniface IV, a day of remembrance for the dead, particularly saints. This is celebrated just like Samhain.

With that, what we now refer to as Halloween has evolved tremendously over the course of thousands of years. It is quite interesting that something extremely sacred and exclusive is now a holiday with little to no religious sentiment attached to it by the average American. It is essential to know the history of why we do the things we do, so we can better understand it and appreciate the beauty in the origins of the celebration. 

So this Halloween, maybe you can see this time of year as a cleansing period and changing of the seasons. Maybe you will declutter your home and start preparing mentally and physically for the upcoming calendar new year. It is never too early to go after tough goals, work on a difficult task, or attempt something new that you have been putting off for the “new year.” So make Halloween your new year when you’re celebrating it!

“Eat, drink, and be scary!”

Xo, Susie