What Are the Origins of Halloween?
The origin of Halloween has it’s roots in ancient Celtic culture and began over 2,000 years ago, as the Celtic festival of Samhein, what they considered New Year’s eve.
Immigrants of what we now know as the British Isles brought pagan traditions and customs with them to America.
The spirit of those traditions live on in the Halloween festivities of today.
To examine the origin of Halloween, let’s look first at the word.
Halloween is also known as “Hallowe’en”, “All Hallow’s Eve”, and “All Soul’s Night”.
For the ancient Celts, and those all over Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, October 31st was a day that signified harvest’s end, and the beginning of the cold winter ahead, which they interpreted as the onset of death. Relying strongly in nature’s ability to control their lives, the Celts believed this night was the only one in which the dead souls roamed free, allowing the druids to foresee a future of hope to those living during the bleak months ahead. Crop and animal sacrifices were made over a large bonfire, after which druids donned animal skins and heads while relaying the future.
During this time, the dead were celebrated. October 31st lies between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. On this day, the ancient spiritualists believed that the veil between the spirit world and the natural world was at it’s thinnest, allowing the deceased to cross over.
This time was called “Samhain”. Samhain is Gaelic, pronounced “SAW-win” or “SAW-vane”, which means “summer’s end.”
If you’ve wondered about the origins of trick-or-treating or the carving of jack-o-lanterns, they are ancient Celtic customs.
While celebrating the New Year, those that gave much were praised, and those that did not give generously were cursed. Jack-o-lanterns have their origins in the Celtic use of the name “Jack” to represent nature spirits, and the old tale of a man named Jack who was not permitted to enter heaven or hell.
Jack wandered through the night, holding a candle inside a turnip. The Irish carved gourds and other vegetables, and lit the insides with embers. This practice evolved into the carving of pumpkins.
Modern Day Halloween
The origin of Halloween as we know it today began in 800 A.D. when Roman pagan influence and Christianity intervened. Considered as a church holy day, Samhein became All-Hallows eve, the day before dead saints’ lives were celebrated. All-Hallows eve became Halloween, All-Hallows eve was changed to All Saints Day, and an additional holy-sanctioned day known as All Souls’ day, was included.
The origin of Halloween has altered in practices and is even celebrated on different days. Since the 19th century, Americans sport costumes for fun, and trick-or-treat for candy on October 31st. Mexicans joyfully anticipate their dead loved ones’ arrivals, celebrating the 3-day Los Dias de los Muertos, starting October 31st, while Japan’s equivalent, O-Bon, is celebrated July 13th through the 15th. England celebrates the Autumn season instead, with a fireworks display and several bonfires for what they call Guy Fawkes day on November 5th. Some nations merely hold various superstitious beliefs, and do not celebrate the holiday. The beliefs of black cats bringing bad luck, fortune-telling powers found in herbs and nuts, and the lighting of lanterns or lanterns made from hollowed-out pumpkins to guide spirits on their way are popular.