Halloween is a much loved holiday in America. People around the country love getting dressed up in a costume and going out for a fun evening filled with treats and scares. There are so many fun aspects to this simultaneously entertaining and frighteningly holiday. A majority of people love to be scared silly on October 31st but most aren’t even aware of the history behind the holiday. As you are out and about, dressed up as your favorite character and celebrating this scary time of year, remember that this holiday has a very long history. Halloween is a celebration of the living and the dead and is filled with plenty of superstitions and a lot of historical traditions.
The ancient origins of Halloween date as far back as 2,000 years ago to the Celts. The Celts lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1st instead of January 1st like we do today. November 1st was a very important day to the Celts. This day signified the end of summer and the harvest and marked the beginning of the long, dark and cold winter. This time of year was also associated with the death of humans due to the harsh weather conditions. The time between October 31st and November 1st opened up the boundary between the dead and living for the Celts. They celebrated Samhain on October 31st which they believed was the night that the dead returned to walk amongst the living. The Celts believed that these spirits wreaked havoc on their crops and also allowed for the Druids to make predictions about the future. The Celts lived in an unsure and harsh enviroment and these prophecies were very important to their overall sense of comfort and gave them some control in an unpredictable world.
The Druids would build huge bonfires that they considered sacred and the people would gather around the bonfire and burn crops and animal sacrifices to Celtic gods. The Celts would wear costumes made up of animal heads and skins. They would celebrate by telling each other’s fortunes and then they would re-light their hearth fires with the fire from the sacred bonfire. The lighting of the hearth from with the fire from the sacred bonfire was believed to help protect the people from the long harsh winters. This celebration was looked forward to all year long as a way to help the Celts face the upcoming challenges of the winter months.
By 43 A.D. The Celts were mostly conquered by the Romans and for four hundred years the Romans ruled over the Celts and they incorporated the festival of Samhain into their own two festivals of Feralia and Pomona. Feralia was celebrated in late October for a day and this festival commemorated the passing of the dead. Pomona was a festival that celebrated the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is that of an apple and it is believed that when the Romans incorporated the festival of Pomona with Samhain the tradition of bobbing for apples was born.
By the 9th century Christianity spread quickly and deeply in the Celtic lands and the rites and traditions of the religion blended with the older Celtic rites and superstitions. In 1000 A.D. the church decided to make November 2nd All Soul’s Day which like Samhain was a day to honor the dead. It was rumored that the church was looking to supplant all the Celtic Festivals with church sanctioned and approved holidays. The two holidays were very similar in nature. All Saint’s Day also featured large bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas from the Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day. The traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion began to be called All-hallows Eve by the people and eventually it turned into Halloween.
Halloween in America was slow to pick up. There was limited celebrating of Halloween in Colonial New England due to the very rigid Protestant belief system. Celebrating Halloween was more common in the southern colonies as opposed to the Northern Colonies. Soon, as the beliefs of the different European ethnic groups merged with the beliefs and traditions of the Native Americans and a very distinct Americanized version of Halloween began to take shape. This form of Halloween featured aspects that are akin to how we celebrate Halloween today. “Play parties” emerged and were popular with the public. These “play parties” featured the telling of ghost stories and each other’s fortunes, dancing, signing, and to celebrate the harvest.
During the second half of the 19th century, America saw a huge influx in the amount of immigrants coming to the United States. There was a large population of Irish people immigrating to the states and they brought with them their Halloween rituals, superstitions and traditions. Since the Celtic people lived in Ireland many of the traditions that the Irish brought with them to the United States were based on the original traditions of Sanhaim. This included dressing up in costumes, asking their neighbors for food and money, and pulling pranks in the evening on Halloween. Soon Americans started doing the same thing, which eventually morphed into the current tradition of “trick-or-treating.”
In the beginning, the tricks were more prominent than the treats. Halloween was a night filled with pranks and mayhem until there was a move to turn Halloween into a more family friendly affair. Halloween parties became a family event and they focused on food, games, and costumes. Parents were encouraged by the media and community leaders to remove anything frightening or grotesque out of Halloween celebrations and to create a more fun and light environment. Halloween then lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century as it began to morph into a more family oriented event. Cities began to organize community events and celebrations and once candy companies began releasing special Halloween candies, our modern version of “trick-or-treating” emerged.
Today Halloween is the country’s second largest commercial holiday because American’s spend about $6 million a year on Halloween. This fun night of costumes and candy is a favorite amongst Americans and people in Puyallup have a lot of fun options in the city when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Check out our blog for tips on the best haunted houses, pumpkin patches, and trick or treating events in Puyallup. Make sure to tweet us and let us know your favorite way to celebrate Halloween!