On October 31 of each year we put on our favorite costumes, eat candy and carve pumpkins all in the name of Halloween. It makes one wonder, however, what are the origins of such a unique holiday filled with spooky traditions?
The tradition of Halloween originates back almost 2,000 years ago during the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in.) The Celts believed fall signified the end of summer and the beginning of a cold and dark winter that often brought death. They believed that on October 31 the veil between the dead and living became blurred, resulting in the ghosts of the dead returning to earth. In order to commemorate such an event, the Celts would build large sacred bonfires and wear costumes made from animal heads and skin to protect themselves from the ghosts of the dead.
As the years progressed, Halloween was extremely limited during colonial times due to rigid Protestant beliefs. However, as the lifestyles of European and American Indians meshed together, an Americanized version of Halloween emerged. These celebrations included events to celebrate the harvest, ghost stories, dancing and the telling of fortunes. Though annual autumn festivities were common during the middle of the nineteenth century, Halloween was not yet celebrated nation-wide.
It wasn’t until the second half of the nineteenth century when America was flooded with new immigrants that Halloween was popularized nationally (originally by the name all hallows’ eve.) Borrowing from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money.
During the late 1800s, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the Halloween. From there, I move was made in America to shift to focus more on ghosts, pranks and witchcraft.
Along with this shift of focus came an increase in spooky stories and monsters. This brought Halloween favorites like Frankenstein and Dracula along with werewolves, zombies, ghosts and witches. Where Dracula and Frankenstein were based on books, the other creatures had more unique origins.
The tradition of Halloween also brought unique superstitions and traditions. Take Jack-o-Lanterns for example. What was once plain pumpkins are carved into scary faces. This tradition originated from the tale of Stingy Jack who trapped the Devil and would let him go only if he promised Jack wouldn’t go to Hell. However, after Jack dies he learns that Heaven will not accept him after all his dealings with the Devil. Jack is then forced to wander the earth as a ghost. Hearing this, the Devil gives Jack a lump of burning coal to light his way. This story inspired some to carve scary faces into pumpkins to scare off evil spirits like Jack.
With Halloween and it’s many traditions tied to historical roots, it makes one extra cautious when wandering the dark streets on Halloween night.
Story by: Cassidy Jasperson