History of Halloween
The celebration of Halloween has become very traditional not only in the United States, but also this holiday has been exported to many other countries although its origin is not at all American.
In About History we explain now what is the history of the day of the dead, and the customs of Halloween and especially what is the true origin of a holiday in which in other countries, it seems to honor the memory of those who are no longer on the sidelines of costumes and pumpkins.
More than 2,000 years ago, on Samhain‘s night, the Celts turned off the lights and hoped that death would not knock on their doors.
The Celtic culture encompassed the British Isles, Scandinavia and Western Europe and this tradition of Samhain spread throughout these territories becoming one of the most popular and in fact we can say that despite some distortion has remained as something traditional.
The evolution modified it but it arrives to our days from this origin and its development.
As I explain, the Druids, Celtic pagan priests celebrated the night of Samhain in which the spirits walked the earth again, seeking to possess the living.
Therefore, no fire was lit, the houses remained cold and dark, their owners dressed in funereal clothes to avoid the attention of the dead and thus it was believed that in the night of the dead one could remain alive if one went unnoticed.
In addition, the Celts celebrated the end of the summer and the end of the harvests and, with it, the beginning of a new year. “All Hallows Eve” is the Anglo-Saxon name given over the centuries to this particular tradition, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, which through time and space would be deformed into the word “Halloween“.
From there comes a name that has been exported around the world although the word “halloween” does not have a translation in the countries in which it is also celebrated. Something that does not happen for example with Christmas, a festivity that each country translates into its own language.
Every October 31st, this date was also a feast dedicated to two gods: Morrigan (goddess of war and death) and Dagda (a secondary deity related to abundance).
Despite its tenebrous origin, perhaps the most curious aspect of this celebration is not its gloomy character, but the mixture of cultural features that today agglutinates in a single date the traditions of several peoples.
What is certain is that the influence of the pagan and the Christian, mainly, has degenerated into a celebration that although far from the origin that we are explaining to you still maintains that connection with being a feast in which death is very present.
Halloween and the “Christian” celebrations.
By conquering part of the British Isles, the Romans acquired part of the Celtic celebrations, and incorporated in their calendar the particular celebration of the end of the Celtic year.
As it is recognized, the Church is in part one of the institutions that best perpetuated the cultural baggage of Roman civilization, through tools such as Latin and writing.
After the German invasions and the fall of Rome, the Church was the only reproducer of ancient Roman and Greek writings, which were often adapted to the Catholic faith.
Thus, in the 7th century A.D., Pope Boniface IV incorporated the ancient Celtic tradition, which appeared in the Roman calendar and was practiced in Breton lands, to all Christian celebrations with the name of the eve of All Saints’ Day, in an attempt to give a sacred framework to the deep-rooted pagan tradition.
However, the celebration of “All Hallows Eve” had not yet ceased to be transformed. By 1845, Ireland experienced its worst economic and social crisis, in what would later be called the Great Irish Famine.
Millions of Irish emigrated to other countries in search of work, with the recent United States of America being the main destination for exiles.
The Irish brought their traditions, and that’s how All Hallows Eve became Halloween. With the American intervention, the celebration took on a much more picturesque, if not commercial, look.
Pumpkin and candy | today’s Halloween tradition
One of the most popular traditions in today’s Halloween is to hollow out and carve a pumpkin. The real origin of this tradition was to make a lantern called Jack-o-lantern, which emerged from 18th century Irish folklore.
Legend has it that Jack was a drinker, gambler and loafer who spent his days lying under an oak tree.
On one occasion Satan appeared to him to take him to hell; but Jack challenged him to climb the oak and, when the devil was in the top of the tree, he carved a cross in the trunk to prevent him from descending. Then Jack made a deal with the devil: it would let him down if he never tempted him with gambling or drinking again.
When Jack died, however, he could not enter heaven because of his sins in life, nor could he enter hell because he had deceived the devil.
In order to compensate him, the devil gave him an ember to illuminate his way in the icy night by which he should wander until the day of Judgment. The ember was placed inside a hollowed bucket that was a turnip, and that had to burn forever like a lantern.
That’s why the Irish used turnips to make their “Jack’s lanterns,” but when immigrants arrived in the United States they noticed that pumpkins were more abundant than turnips.
That’s why he began the tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween night and transforming them into lanterns with a candle inside. The lantern was not intended to summon evil spirits but to keep them away from people and houses.
As for the custom of “trick or treat” or asking for candy from door to door, it arises in 1930 and has as its origin a practice that arose in Europe during the ninth century called souling, a kind of service for souls.
On November 2, the Day of the Faithful departed, early Christians (from the Roman church, i.e. Catholics) went from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” which were pieces of bread with raisins.
The more cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they would pray for the souls of the dead relatives of their benefactors.
At that time there is a belief that the dead remained in limbo for a period after their death, and that prayers, even if said by strangers, could hasten the soul’s entry into heaven.
The practice was moved to the United States as an attempt by the authorities to control the vandalism that occurred during Halloween night. Towards the end of the 19th century, some sections of the population regarded the night of October 31st as a time of fun at the expense of others, inspired by the “Mischief Night” that was part of Irish and Scottish culture.
and although the acts consisted of heavy jokes such as tearing down fences or soaping windows, they ended up resulting in real acts against people and animals, not to mention that it peaked during the 1920s with the massacres perpetrated by the masked Ku Klux Klan.
That’s why community groups began to propose family fun alternatives to counter vandalism: carved pumpkin contests and costumes or parties for children and adults.
In this way, they set out to retake the spirit of the early Christians, and so they went house by house in disguise or with masks offering a simple performance or a musical number in exchange for food and drink, and then later on, it led to sweets and candies.