Saturday, 16 October 2021

Everything you need to know about Halloween: Origins, meanings, and traditions

The most ghoulish time of the year, Halloween, is celebrated worldwide, but where did it all begin? Let us take a look...

Halloween occurs every year on 31st October. 

It originated with an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. During this time, people would wear costumes and light bonfires to scare off ghosts. 

The 1st November was designated by Pope Gregory III as a day to honour all of the saints. The day before was known as All Hallows Eve, which later evolved into Halloween and is still celebrated today. 

Modern Halloween includes activities like carving pumpkins, wearing costumes, and going trick or treating.

Here are more facts about its fascinating history!

Halloween origins date back over 2,000 years! 

It began with the Celts, who celebrated the new year on 1st November. 

This date marked the end of summer and the harvest that the dark nights were drawing in and winter was coming. 

Sadly, it was a time of year that was heavily associated with death as it was believed that on this day, the lines between the worlds of living and dead became blurred.

So, on the night before they celebrated Samhain, this is when they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. 

The Druids (Celtic priests) felt that they could make predictions on this day, which brought much comfort to many during the long and cold winter to come.

To celebrate the event, large bonfires were built, and animals were sacrificed to the Celtic deities.

They wore costumes made of animal pelts and skins and told fortunes to one another, all as part of the celebration. 

As celebrations ended, everyone took a light from the bonfire and used it to relight the fires in their own homes as a form of protection.

In around 43 AD, the Romans had conquered a lot of the Celtic territory, which they ruled for 400 years. 

During this time, Samhain was combined with two Roman festivals called Feralia and the Pomona festival. 

Feralia was the Romans own festival to commemorate the passing of the dead, and Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. 

The symbol of Pomona was the apple which explains the tradition of apple bobbing today. 

Halloween was not heavily celebrated in New England due to the solid protestant religious beliefs that they had there. 

However, it was widely celebrated throughout the southern colonies of America.

The beliefs and customs of all different ethnic groups gelled together, and the American version of Halloween emerged.

In early celebrations, there were parties purely designated to celebrate the harvests. 

During these, neighbours would get together and exchange stories, dance, sing and tell fortunes. 

There was often lots of unexplained mischief and the haunting telling of ghost stories.

In the 19th century, new immigrants to America, many of them Irish fleeing the Potato Famine, helped increase the popularity of Halloween and brought over many of their traditions. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a more widely celebrated community holiday. 

There were often town-wide parties and parades that everyone could get involved in. However, Halloween began to see a rise in vandalism based on tricks becoming more popular.

In the ’50s, trick or treating was revived and was a great way to share through the community. 

The families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing them with treats, and so although there is a nod to tradition from the community sharing perspective, this is a more modern practice.

People would often dress up in costumes and go house to house and ask for food or money.

Young women traditionally believed that they could learn the name of their future husbands by doing tricks on Halloween. If only it were that easy!

In the 1800s, the idea of Halloween became more community-based, so trick and treating became more popular like it still is today. 

It is estimated that 6 billion dollars are spent on Halloween each year!

The holiday is all about mystery and magic. 

In the Celtic festival for friendly spirits, families would leave out treats, light candles and even make up a space at the dinner table for loved ones, all in a bid to help them find their way back to the families from the spirit world.

However, modern Halloween ghosts and ghouls are shown as way scarier, and our customs are too. 

Many people say a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. In the Middle Ages, many people believed that witches turned themselves into black cats to avoid detection.

There are many other Halloween superstitions that people still follow today, like avoiding breaking mirrors, not walking under ladders, and not stepping on cracks in the road.

Many Halloween beliefs now forgotten the focus on women finding their future husbands and help to reassure them that they would have found them by the next Halloween.

In Ireland, the cook would bury a ring in the mashed potato and whoever found it would get true love. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland, women would name hazelnuts after each suitor and throw them into the fire. The one that burned to ashes rather than popping was the one that represented their future husband.

Some young women tossed apple peels over their shoulders, hoping that when they fell, the shape on the floor was the husband’s initials. 

Another tradition was that the first apple bobber that had success would be the first down the aisle.

Written by Jessica Murray


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