Where Did Halloween Come From?

A Torn Veil

Halloween has been celebrated in America since the mid-1800s. It has its origins in Celtic religion as the holiday Samhain (pronounced “sow-wen”). It is commonly said that they believed the veil separating the Otherworld and the material world was at its thinnest, if not torn completely. The Otherworld was the spiritual realm that coexisted and intermingled with the material world. In Celtic religion, spirituality and the material weren’t seen as mutually exclusive: they commingled, they interacted. The spiritual and material were two faces of the same coin.

The Celts used a lunar calendar whose New Year fell on October 31st. The idea of a new year brought along with it connotations of new beginnings but also the death of the previous year. Feasts were held to honor the dead, perhaps due to their belief that spirits walked the Earth that day. It was their most important holiday due not only to its spiritual significance, but also the material. This was a critical time for the Celts to make preparations for the coming winter.

Halloween traditions have their roots in both Celtic and Christian religion. Pope Boniface IV, on May 13, 609 A.D., dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to honor all Christian martyrs and instituted a feast known as All Martyrs Day. In the early 700s A.D., Pope Gregory III changed All Martyrs Day to All Saints Day. He designated it to November 1 in order to honor all of the saints and not just the martyrs.. The day before fell on Samhain and was christened as All Hallows Eve.

Traditions

Here is the main reason you clicked on this post: where do all of these traditions come from?

Black and Orange

Black is for night and orange is associated with autumn. Black is said to also be associated with death and darkness as well. Black could represent the cold and dark winter as opposed to the warm and bright orange autumn.

Costumes

Theories abound as to where costumes came from. Some say the Celts would wear costumes made from animals skins and heads to ward off evil spirits, absorb spiritual energy from them, or stay anonymous during druidic ceremonies. Spirits may have been thought to cause mischief during that night, so the costumes and masks could bring the people some anonymity. Some say that the costumes were used to prevent spirits from possessing them. They would not just dress up like animals, but also as ghosts, goblins, and other creatures.

Jack-O’-Lanterns

Stingy Jack was a man from Irish folklore who invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Shockingly enough, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks. Jack kept the coin and slipped it next to a silver cross in his pocket, which kept the Devil from changing back. Jack freed him under the condition that he would leave him alone and when Jack would die, the Devil would not claim his soul.

When Jack died, God wouldn’t allow a man like him into heaven. The Devil held to the deal that Jack wouldn’t go to Hell, so Jack had nowhere to go but to roam the Earth as a spirit. The Devil sent him off into the night with a burning coal as a light. Jack carved out a turnip to hold the coal and make a lantern. The Irish would refer to him as “Jack of the Lantern” and later, “Jack O’Lantern.” People started to carve faces into beets, turnips, potatoes, and so on and placed them onto windows or outside to scare Jack away. These were used to also scare away other evil spirits. When immigrants from practicing countries came to America, driven by opportunity or the infamous Potato Famine, they found pumpkins to work much better.

Trick or Treat

Regarding Celtic origin, druids would go door to door asking for material for ceremonial bonfires including offerings and wood. In Celtic society, druids were seen with the utmost importance and were supported by the community. They would also go around begging for food, partly for survival and partly for religious offerings. People were more likely to face consequences by the Otherworld if they were stingy in their offerings. These consequences could be seen as “tricks.”

Regarding later origin, poor people would visit houses and be given soul cakes if they promised to pray for the souls of the homeowner’s dead relatives. Children would later take up souling, as it was called, and go door to door asking for things like food and money. The Scottish-Irish version of this exchange was guising. Young people would dress up in costumes and entertain people door to door in exchange for change, fruit, or nuts. They would recite poetry, tell jokes, or sing songs. These were called “tricks.”

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