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Halloween History

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The haunting, the horror, the tricks and the treats. Where did it all begin?

Our modern Halloween has roots dating back over 2,000 years. The Celts who inhabited today's Ireland observed the changing of the new year on November 1. On this day, summer ended and winter began. Summer and its harvest symbolized life and health for the Celts. Winter and its cold, dark nights symbolized death for the Celts.

On October 31, the night before the year changed, the Celts celebrated Samhain. The boundaries between the worlds of the living and the worlds of the dead became blurred on this night. The spirits of the dead could roam the earth and create chaos. Some people believed that the spirits searched for bodies to possess on this night.

The one positive aspect of the night, however, was that the Druids, or priests of the Celts, could receive prophesies on this night from the spirits roaming the earth. The Celts relied on these prophecies to tell them how to survive the dark nights of winter. The Celtic people built bonfires for sacred ceremonies to celebrate Samhain. The burned sacrifices to their gods and listened to the prophecies given to the Druids.

Interestingly, Halloween's tradition of donning masks and costumes comes from this original October 31st celebration. The Celts clothed themselves in costumes made from animals. Dressed in their costumes made from animal heads and skins, they danced around the bonfire, told fortunes, and waited for the dark night to bring in the new year.

Some legends say the people wore the costumes on October 31st to scare off spirits wanting to possess them for the winter. The noisy dance around the bonfire kept spirits of the dead far away from the living. With the Roman invasion of the land, cultural celebrations became blended together.

The Romans combined Samhain with their celebrating Feralia in late October. This late October celebration marked the day the dead passed into the world of the afterlife.

Romans also celebrated Pomona in October. This feast honored the goddess of trees and fruit.

As Halloween grew through the centuries, it gained more and more popularity.

The name Halloween came from a Christian celebration. Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics honored all saints in heaven with a day called All Saints Day or All Hallows on November 1st. The night before came to be known as All Hallows Eve. Soon October 31st took on the abbreviated name of Halloween.


As the years went by, the traditions of the Celts, the Romans, and the Christians blended together to create the traditions of October 31st. So why do we do what we do on Halloween?

"Why do we bob for apples?"

This Halloween tradition probably came from the Roman Pomona feast. An apple symbolized this celebration honoring the goddess of trees and fruit. So we seek after the apples as the Romans sought after blessings from a goddess.

"Where did the Jack-o-lantern come from?

Probably from the legend of a drunk Irishman named Jack who tried to trick the devil. The story says that Jack treed the devil so he could make a deal with the demon never to be tempted or have his soul sought after again. But his deal with the devil cost him life in Heaven and in Hell. So Jack was doomed to wander the world with one ember for his lantern which was the traditional hollowed out turnip in Ireland. Americans turned the turnip into a hollowed out pumpkin.

"Why do we trick-or treat?"

In Europe, during the All Saints Day festivities, less fortunate people begged from the wealthy in hopes of getting a meal for the day. The beggars were offered pastries if they promised to pray for the dead relatives of those who gave the treats.

Others believe the tradition started from the ancient settlers leaving gifts of food and drink for the spirits roaming the world on October 31st. The spirits went door to door looking for people to possess but left occupants unharmed if treats were left for their taking.

Starting in the 1950's, children started the tradition of trick-or-treating for UNICEF. Since Halloween is an international event, children began to find ways to bring a positive twist to the spirit of the evening. Parents had gotten leery over the horrors of the night and found UNICEF an uplifting option.

"So what costume will I wear this year?"

Kids look forward to picking out their Halloween costumes yearly. This tradition first started with the Celts as they dressed in animal heads and skins as they danced around their bonfires waiting for their year to change. Other Europeans continued the tradition. They believed if they wore masks out, ghosts who came to earth on October 31st would not recognize the humans as earthly being and would pass them by.

British citizens in the 16th century used Halloween as a Shaming Night to shames local and national politicians. The citizens dressed up to mimic the politicians they wanted to disgrace. Now selling costumes in America has turned into a profitable industry.


Can it be true?

"Will ringing a bell on Halloween ward off evil spirits?"
"Is the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead broken through
    on October 31st?"
"If an owl screeches on Halloween night, could it mean the death of a newborn baby?"
"Can witches turn to owls and swoop down after infants?"
"If you hear an owl hooting, does it mean is witch is coming near?"
"Do dead relatives watch you on Halloween through the eyes of a spider near you?"
"If you are born on Halloween, do you commune with the spirits easier than other people do?"
" Does a ghost turn a candle flame blue when it comes into a room?"
"Can a snail foretell the initials your
future sweetheart if you catch the snail on Halloween?"
"Can broomsticks be magical?"

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