Halloween is a globally recognised event. From ghosts, ghouls, chocolates, sweets, pumpkins, tricks and treats, Halloween sparks excitement and paranormal interest. This article looks at the history of All Hallows Eve and how it’s evolved into the event we know it as today.
Halloween can be dated back 2000 years to Celtic traditions from Ireland, UK and Northern France. In particular, it is believed to be an evolution of their festival “Samhain” which was celebrated on November 1st. This festival was one which marked their version of the New Year. A transition from the summer season to the winter one. This new season, winter, was associated with harsh living conditions, darkness and higher death rates. The Celts believed that the lines between the world of the living and the world of the dead became blurred on this night between the two seasons and that the dead could walk the earth of the living and wreak havoc, mainly by ruining crops. They believed that the Druids and Priests were able to make readings of the future on this night based on the events of the festival. People lit bonfires and dressed in costumes of spirits or wild animals, to ward off these lost souls who crossed over. The bonfires that were made were used for the people to make sacrifices to the Gods, usually consisting of crops and animals, in the hope they would grant them good fortune in the upcoming dark season and protect them from the dead that night.
Once the Romans had invaded Britain and established their own beliefs in place of the old ones, the Samhain festival evolved. They combined it with the Roman custom of “Feralia”. This was a night where the Romans marked the passing of the dead. It’s also widely believed that it was the Romans who introduced the basis of “Bobbing for Apples”, as it is related to another winter ritual of honouring Pomona, the Goddess of Fruit and Trees whose symbol was an apple and this was entwined with the old Samhain festival celebrations.
Rise of Christianity
The rise of Christianity saw further evolution of the old Celtic traditions and they once more evolved to adapt to the new cultures. Around 1000 AD, Christian churches made November 2nd “All Saints Day”. At this time, Paganism and old customs were still relevant and so they were attempting to blend the rituals so people would be more likely to partake in them if they felt they had ties to the old ways. This meant that All Saints Day still incorporated bonfires and costumes of spirits, but now also devils, angels and Saints. All Saints Day was also called “All Hallows” and the night before that, the old Samhain night, became known as “All Hallows Eve”. Later to be called Halloween.
Modern Day Practise
It’s amazing to think that something as old as Samhain has survived to the 21st century, albeit adapted and evolved. With technology, science and knowledge, people’s beliefs have changed and the old rituals and beliefs of Gods and spirits are no longer as important in the celebration of Halloween. It has become a custom which is a nod to the old ways and beliefs, but is now more commercialised and fun. It celebrates the spooky and weird rather than fears them. Of course, some people still believe in the old Gods and so will celebrate it as it would have been in years gone by, but on the whole, it is a night of spooky based fun which has its roots firmly fixed on old beliefs and traditions. The exchange of sweets/candy is a throw back to the sacrifices made in order to not to be harassed by the spirits of the dead (the people in fancy dress trick or treating tricking). However you celebrate Halloween, if at all, be sure to have fun!
~ Image source for Happy Halloween: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76999192@N06
~ Image for ghoul: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65165042@N08