What does Halloween mean to you? For kids, it's a holiday to dress in costume and get lots of candy but how did Halloween become so popular?
For most kids, it's a holiday in which they dress in costume and get lots of candy, and perhaps visit a haunted house and hear some ghost stories. For parents, it's about costuming the kids and accompanying them on their trick-or-treating trips or handing out candy.
For adults without children, it may be an excuse to put on a scary costume and party all night.
Halloween is my favourite time of year! Is it yours?
Have you ever wondered where the idea for Halloween came from? Did someone decide that kids needed an excuse to go door to door asking for candy? Was there a petition to start a holiday to celebrate the scary and gruesome? Or is Halloween a throwback to a holiday from some obscure religion?
Actually, Halloween's roots go back several centuries. Although its meanings and customs have changed throughout the years, it still has some things in common with its early days. Keep reading to learn all about this spooky yet supremely enjoyable holiday.
How did the Halloween tradition start?
Some 2,000 years ago, there was no such thing as Halloween. But the Celts celebrated an annual festival known as Samhain. This holiday was believed to be celebrated on November 1st. But the Celts considered sunset the beginning of the day, so it technically began on the evening of October 31st.
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year.
Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to November 1, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.
Samhain was regarded as a day of transition between summer and winter, as well as the last day of the year. It was believed that on this night, the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. This supernatural theme was transferred over into the modern-day Halloween and continues to be recognized to this day.
The Celts believed that on the evening of Samhain, the spirits damaged crops and caused other sorts of trouble. But they also believed that they made it possible for the Celtic priests, known as Druids, to predict the future. Even common people were believed to be able to see glimpses of certain aspects of the future by performing certain rituals.
There were certain Samhain practices that were repeated from year to year. The Druids would build huge bonfires, and people would throw crops and animal bones into the fire as sacrifices. They also wore costumes made of animal skins and heads, and sometimes put on masks. These costumes were intended to conceal the wearer's identity from the evil spirits.
There were also instances of people exhibiting strange behaviour during Samhain. Pranksters would remove farmers' gates and move their horses to different fields. Both men and women cross-dressed. And children went to neighbours' homes, knocking on doors and requesting food and treats, not unlike they do today.
The Celts would extinguish their hearth fires prior to the Samhain festivities, supposedly so that spirits would find them too cold to haunt. When the celebration was over, they would relight them with coals from the sacred bonfires. This was believed to provide protection during the winter months.
By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celts' territory. They ruled this land for 400 years. During this time, they combined two of their own festivals with Samhain. One of these festivals honoured Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit. The other was Feralia, the Romans' own holiday honouring the dead.
Eventually, Christian influence made its way into the Celtic lands. In the 7th century, November 1st was declared All Saints' Day. The holiday was also known as All Hallows Day or All-hallowmas. Samhain was the night before All Saints' Day, and they began to call it All Hallows' Eve. This was eventually shortened to the contraction “Hallow E'en,” which was later simplified to Halloween.