History of Halloween

Halloween is a festival that is celebrated in US and other western countries. Its history dates back years.

Halloween has a rich history. Today, it is a festival that involves dressing up in costumes, having a party, and going trick or treating. While the festival was once a pagan religion, and then a Christian religion, today it has more commercial appeal than anything else.

The festival started out as the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Like most old festivals, it was also a harvest festival. It celebrated the end of the harvest season, along with the warmer days, and the starts of the cold, winter days. The winter was often associated with death mainly due to cold and lack of vegetation in the north during these months.

The festival was celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, which traditionally fell on 31 October. The celebrations lasted from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November. The Gaels also believed that during this night, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was blurred allowing the spirits of fairies and the dead to come back to this world and try to possess a human body.

In order to ward off these spirits, people used to wear masks trying to fool the spirits into believing that they were one of them, and not a human body to be possessed. People also lit large bonfires and offered food, grain, and animals as peace offerings to the dead spirits. They also carved lanterns with grotesque faces out of turnips or mangel wurzels. These lanterns were either meant to lead the wandering spirits or ward off evil ones. This is also where the tradition of pumpkin carving comes from. When the festival travelled to the US, the people used the locally available pumpkins instead of turnips.

Eventually, as Christianity gained popularity, the Christians sought to make this festival their own, as they had done for a variety of pagan religions. In 835, Pope Gregory IV shifted the date of All Saints’ Day from 13 May to 1 November, i.e. the same date as Samhain. Hence, the night of 31st October became All Hallows Eve, the night to keep vigil before the feast of All Saints’ Day. 2nd November is All Souls’ Day. These days are in honor of the Saints and all the recently departed souls that have yet to reach heaven. It was also customary to bake soul cakes (small round cakes) and give them out to soulers, who were mainly children and the poor who went door to door singing and saying prayers "for the souls of the givers and their friends." This resulted in the trick-or-treating tradition of today.

It can be surprising to see how things change over the course of human history. Halloween is one of those things. What once started out as simple harvest festival celebrated in local communities in Ireland, and Scotland, has now evolved into a cultural horror phenomenon of today.

Image Courtesy: spellsforall.com

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