- Holidays and Celebrations»
Where did Halloween originate from?
The History of Halloween
Halloween was originally a 3-day festival beginning on November 1. Initially called Samhain, it originated with the Celts in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France. The celebration surrounded the end of harvest and the beginning of winter or the new year. Since winter is cold and dark, this time of year was also associated with human death.
The Druids, Celtic priests, also worshiped Samhain, the Lord of Darkness. The first day of November was known as "The Feast of Samhain. On the eve of Samhain, the boundary between the living and dead disappeared. Evil spirits were condemned to the body of animals, and those spirits which died in the preceding twelve months returned to earth looking for human bodies to inhabit. Believing these spirits were harmful and would try to inhabit their bodies, the people feared them.
Samhain was celebrated in two different ways. During this time of year, the people took stock of food supplies for the upcoming winter and slaughtered their livestock. On the eve of Samhain, the people would extinguish their hearth fires, and the Druids would light big bonfires on the hilltops. In the fires; crops, animals, and sometimes even humans were burned as a sacrificial offering. The offering was to protect them from the returning evil spirits and to encourage the return the sun. They also thought the presence of the dead would enable the Druids to make predictions more easily, so they practiced divination too.
On the eve of Samhain, people dressed in costumes so the spirits would mistake them as another evil spirit. In addition to the hearth fire being extinguished to make the house cold and unwelcome, they also left food on their doorsteps for the spirits so they wouldn't enter the house. After a night of dancing around the fire, divination, and sacrifices; the next morning, the villagers used bonfire's embers to reignite their hearth fires.
When the Romans conquered the Celtic territory, two other celebrations were combined with Samhain. These two celebrations were Feralia and the day which honors Pamona. Feralia commemorated the passing of the dead, and Pamona was the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees.
When Christianity spread into these lands, the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable with pagan celebration. Therefore, they tried to impress their own observances on Samhain, but they did not eliminate celebration completely. Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saint's Day. This day commemorated the passing of the dead. Furthermore, the day before was designated as All Soul's Day when the poor promised to pray for the dead in exchange for a soulcake. Later All Soul's Day wa called All Hallow's Eve which was eventually called Halloween. Although the name and meaning of Samhain was changed, many of the festivities remained the same. People still had bonfires; however, instead of dressing up as animals, they dressed up as saints, angels, and devils.
Halloween was not celebrated in the United States until after 1900, and the first city to celebrate was Anoka, Minnesota in 1924.