Halloween is easily my favorite holiday. The many universal traditions involved with the holiday make Halloween both fun and unique. Some familiar rituals include carving pumpkins, searching for the perfect costume, trick-or-treating, decorating homes in spooky décor, or going through spook alleys. However, these traditions have ancient European and paganistic roots. Join Dynagrace Enterprises on our unique Halloween-themed blog on the history of common Halloween traditions.
The Date of October 31st
In 609 A.D., Christian leader, Pope Boniface IV, declared May 13th “All Martyrs Day.” This holiday persisted for nearly 200 years until the eighth century when Pope Gregory III declared that the celebration failed to recognize saints. He then mandated November 1st be a holiday celebrating all martyrs as well as saints. This holiday became known as “All Saints Day.” However, the new holiday overlapped with the Celtic New Year on the same day. The Celts had superstitious beliefs and would fill the holiday night with bonfires and chants to ward off evil spirits.
With the holidays on the same day, the principles and ideas behind them merged. Since the Celts believed that November 1st marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark and deadly winter, the holiday became based on the idea that the veil between life and death was at its thinnest the day before the winter months began. This ideology meant that spirits could travel to the world of the living for one night. This new holiday on the 31st of October became known as Samheim or Holy Eve.
As the European ethnic groups meshed, Halloween became more commonplace. Now, the holiday is marked with numerous parties, people dressed in costumes, and ghost stories to celebrate the undead.
Iconic Halloween Colors
Based on ancient Celtic rituals, November 1st marked the end of the year and beginning of the cold and deadly winter. Many impoverished people died during the winter months because of the low temperatures and the lack of food. However, once warmer weather rolled along, poverty-stricken citizens could plant seeds and grow their harvest. The transition of seasons is the reason behind the classic Halloween hues of black and orange. Celts designated black to symbolize the terrible winters, and orange signified the hope and life associated with the summer months.
The Name “Halloween”
The term “Halloween” is thought to have originated in Scotland. It derived from the term “Holy Eve” which refers to the day before the Celtic New Year. In 1783, Glasgow poet John Main referred to the holiday as “Hallow-E’en” in his poem. His poetry became so immersed in the Celtic culture that the populace quickly defined October 31st as Hallow-E’en in replacement of Samheim or Holy Eve.
According to old Irish legend, there once existed a man named Stingy Jack who tried to cheat the devil. He repeatedly hunted and imprisoned Satan until he agreed not to send Stingy Jack to Hell when he died. While he successfully avoided going to Hell, he never found his place in Heaven. According to the lore, God barred Stingy Jack from entering the gates of Heaven, so Jack was doomed to straddle both Heaven and Hell or eternity. As a punishment, the devil cursed him to roam the earth forever using a hollowed turnip as a lantern.
Initially, people carved turnips and placed them in their windows to scare away “Jack of the Lantern” as well as other evil spirits. However, as immigrants came to America, they discovered that pumpkins make even better Jack-O-Lanterns.
Wearing costumes on Halloween also has Celtic roots. During Samhain, they believed that the dead walked among the living. They also claimed that the evil spirits sought to harm the populace. However, ghosts couldn’t hurt their kind. Therefore, to protect themselves, they wore animal skin costumes that they thought disguised them as spirits. These costumes allowed them to hide in plain sight.
Throughout Samhain, the Celts had food offering that served to ward off evil spirits. However, some people began dressing up as ghosts to take advantage of the free food. These devious behaviors helped fuel the trick-or-treat culture.
Furthermore, in the Middle Ages, Christians would celebrate All Saints Day, and the poor would go “souling.” Souling is when individuals would visit a house and offer to say prayers for the family’s dead relatives in exchange for food. These food sacrifices became known as “soul cakes.”
As Halloween became more prevalent in America in the 19th century, the holiday took on a mischievous aspect. Instead of equal exchanges, it became more extortive by implying, “Give us treats, or we will prank you.” This new mindset is how the phrase “Trick or treat” came to be. However, vandalism grew rampant with this mindset, so, in the 1930’s, the communities encouraged the fun trick-or-treating traditions and atmosphere that we have today.
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Resources: https://www.rd.com/culture/chilling-history-of-halloween-traditions/, https://www.thestreet.com/lifestyle/holidays-events/history-of-halloween-14735477, https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween
Picture Resources: Featured Image: https://pixabay.com/en/moon-night-full-moon-gespenstig-703538/., https://pixabay.com/en/jack-o-lanterns-lit-pumpkins-3735386/, https://pixabay.com/en/halloween-trick-or-treat-pumpkin-1773447/, https://pixabay.com/en/ghost-black-and-white-dark-horror-1280683/, https://pixabay.com/en/pumpkin-lady-halloween-1713381/