One day a year children pretend to be monsters, knock on our doors, threaten us, and we give them candy for their efforts. Why?
Because it’s Halloween! The weather gets chilly, we get excited for pumpkin spice everything, and the leaves turn pretty shades of orange and red. Halloween has always been an enchanted season of superstition, magic and mystery. A holiday that mixes fear and fun. It has a long history that dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning “Summer’s End”.
Over 2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. Samhain was celebrated at the end of the harvest and the start of the winter season. Celts believed that on New Year’s Eve, the boundary between the living and the dead was opened and the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. Druids would light large bonfires to sacrifice animals and crops, then light their hearths with the fires from the sacred bonfire. They would dress in costume to avoid being recognized by spirits.
Across Europe, at around the same time, the Romans were celebrating Pomona, the Goddess of gardens and fruits. Romans would lay out apples and nuts as tributes. (Apple bobbing, anyone?) By 50 BCE the Romans had conquered much of Europe thus spreading Pomona. As the Romans moved into Celtic territory, Pomona and Samhain started to blend.
As Christianity grew, the church wanted to draw people away from the pagan traditions. The early church was originally adopting individual days for each canonized saint, but found this became unwieldy as more and more saints were canonized. A single day was claimed as the celebration of saints, known as All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day, was originally celebrated in May. However, Pope Gregory III moved the celebration from May 13 to November 1 as part of this effort to draw in the pagans, and All Souls’ Day (which more closely resembled Samhain) was instituted on November 2nd. As November 1st was All Hallows’ Day, October 31st became known as All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually evolved to Halloween.
During the medieval ages, Christian tradition held that on the eve of All Saints’ Day, the poor went to the homes of the wealthy and offered to pray for the recently departed in that household. The rich then would give the poor pastries as a token of appreciation. Eventually trick or treating grew in America, pausing only for wartime, becoming the kid-friendly practice it is today.
Because of the staunch beliefs of the Puritans in the colonies, Halloween started slowly in America. It was the mass of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the nineteenth century that brought about the revival of Halloween. What didn’t work in America was adapted. Instead of a turnip Jack O’Lantern, they carved a readily available pumpkin instead to ward off evil spirits. Talk about roots!
The Celtic world may lie in ruin today, but their traditions that gave us the recipe for Halloween today lives on.
Want to learn more? Check out our list of Halloween books and learn more about the history, recipes, and crafts!
Want a spooky story to get you in the Halloween mood? Check out our list of bewitching books!