No matter what your age, 31st October is always a night to look forward to celebrating. Halloween is known for carving jack-o-lanterns, bonfires, haunted houses, costume parties, candy, and trick-or-treating. It is filled with superstition, magic, and mystery. But Halloween wasn’t always the same celebration as it is experienced today. In fact, its origins date back thousands of years.
Origin and History of Halloween
The history of Halloween dates back to the ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season, known as Samhain. This festival was celebrated every year from the sunset on October 31 to November 1.
On this day, it was believed that the deceased would rise and the dead would wander the earth to possess life souls. To keep up with the tradition, Celts dressed up as ghosts and monsters and put out all the lights in their houses. They also made bonfires and would offer sacrifices. The concept behind these activities was to ward off the evil spirits and protect themselves from being possessed.
The word Halloween itself is a Scottish term that means All Hallows Eve. It basically refers to the evening before All Saints’ Day. Gaels thought the walls between our world and the spiritual realm were thin. So, to protect their crops, they would light bonfires to scare away evil spirits and set up places at their dinner tables for good spirits.
Dressing up and trick or treating came from 16th century Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. People would ask for food in exchange for a song or poem. People dressed up in scary costumes and impersonated the ghosts to protect themselves.
The tradition of trick-or-treating started when the Celtic believed that fairies would pretend to be beggars and go from one door to another asking for food. People who offered them money or food were rewarded and those who didn’t give them anything were cursed forever. From this legend, we have the current trick-or-treat tradition. Kids dress up in Halloween costumes and go trick-or-treating from one house to another and receive candies, chocolates, and other small treats.
On this day, the Celts used to represent the departed by placing skeletons by the window. People would keep bowls with food outside their doors to appease ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter homes. Bonfires were also common. People lit them to scare away the ghosts.
They would also hollow and carve vegetables e.g. turnips – to ward off wandering spirits that might cause trouble. The modern ‘jack-o-lantern’ originates from an Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a hard-drinking, miserable farmer who tricked the Devil to climb an apple tree and then trapped him.
The carving of pumpkins is related to immigrants from Ireland coming to America in the late 19th century. They found that this native American vegetable was easier to carve and made jack-o-lanterns. In this way, they made Halloween celebration popular in this region.
With time, Halloween has evolved into a day of show, parties, and pomp. Equally enjoyed by children and adults, modern-day Halloween is all about treats, costumes, family gatherings, trick-or-treating, and carving jack-o-lanterns.
However, there are interesting beliefs and traditions rooted in history that today’s party-lovers have forgotten. These obsolete traditions, focused on the living rather than the departed ones:
- In the 18th century, a matchmaking cook in Ireland would hide a ring inside mashed potatoes and the man who finds it at the dinner table would bring true love.
- Another superstition had it that if a young woman ate a sweet brew made from nutmeg, walnuts, and hazelnuts before going to bed on the night of Halloween, she would dream about her future husband.
However, the tradition of dressing for Halloween can be said to be both Celtic and modern. It was believed that spirits came back to earth on Halloween. To protect themselves, people would mask themselves and wore scary, ghoulish costumes while leaving home after dark. This way the spirits would mistake them as fellow mates.
Halloween Celebrations Around the World
Many of the Halloween celebrations around the world are the same as those celebrated in the USA, UK, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries. These include bonfires being lit around the country, particularly in rural areas. Kids and adults dressing up in costume – usually as scary characters, skeletons, witches, ghosts, etc. and going trick-or-treating. This means going from one house to another around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, and asking for treats. The treats usually include candies, chocolates, and snacks. Children shout “trick or treat!” as people open their doors and if a person does not give a treat, the kids can trick a person with a small prank.
Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated on November 5, so it’s not very far ahead of Halloween. Because of this event’s proximity to Halloween, many people organize a combined party for Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night. These parties often include elements from both festivals, e.g. dressing up in spooky outfits, lighting bonfire, setting off fireworks, firecrackers, etc. Popular foods include potatoes backed in the ashes of the fire, bonfire toffee, and toffee apples. In some cities and towns, the municipality organizes a professional firework display and bonfire in a park. These tend to be very popular.
Halloween is one of the oldest and most popular festivals that is celebrated in many countries around the world. Millions of people celebrate it every year without knowing its origins, which makes it that much more thrilling. The reason why this festival is so popular is simple: it is good and it is harmless, clean fun for kids and adults alike. Some see Halloween as a time for fun, family, and friends while others still see its ties to deceased or its superstitious nature. Some religions even view it as an unholy celebration. No matter your view, you cannot deny the fascinating nature of the story of this festival.