The Spooky And Layered Origins Of Halloween

graves alighted with candles and gifts on a celebration of All Hallows’ Eve Source: Britannica Around the world, millions of people in multiple countries celebrate Halloween or “All Hallows’ Eve” on October 31. Today we know the holiday as the night children, young adults, and many older adults dress up as their favourite characters or spooky creatures for an evening of candy, fun, scares, and parties. Depending on the country and the type of Halloween-loving person you are, you may celebrate this time-honoured event in a number of different ways. Maybe you even spend it playing horror-themed slots at Royal Vegas Casino. Whichever way you like to give yourself a little scare or enjoy some good costuming fun, do you know the origins of Halloween began during ancient Celtic times? Discover where some of your favourite Halloween traditions began with this spooky stroll into the past of All Hallows’ Eve.

Early Druid and Christian Celebrations of the Dead

Almost every modern Halloween tradition we celebrate has a direct counterpart from centuries ago. It all started, most likely, with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. For the Celts, Samhain, or Calan Gaeaf, signified the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. This was also considered the “darker half” of the year. This turning of the season was also considered a threshold for the practicing pagans. They saw Samhain as the time when the boundary between our physical world and the Otherworld grew closer, allowing the Aos Sí, or spirits and fairies, to easily come into the world and be active. During Samhain, the Celts also believed that the Aos Sí required appeasement so that the villagers, farmers, and livestock would survive the harsh winters. They offered up food and drink or portions of crops for these beings. Early Celts also believed that the souls of the dead revisited their homes on this night, the first day of Samhain from October 31 to November 1. Places were set at the dinner table for those who had passed and fires were fanned to welcome lost family members and friends. As traditions evolved, countries like Ireland would add lighting candles and saying prayers for the souls of the dead, after which they would eat, drink, and play games. Sound like our modern Halloween celebrations? Halloween also has its roots in Christian history. By 609 A.D., All Martyrs’ Day had been established as a Catholic feast event in the Western Church. Pope Gregory III later expanded this date to include all saints as well as martyrs, becoming All Saints’ Day and changed the date from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century, Christianity had spread to Celtic territory and began to blend with some older Celtic traditions. In 1000 A.D., the church confirmed that November 2 was All Souls’ day where people could honor the dead. Many believe the church was trying to appropriate the Celtic festival of the dead with All Souls’ Day. The Christian holiday is similar to Samhain, including big bonfires, parades, and dressing up as saints, angels, and devils. All Saints’ Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, which slowly became “Halloween.”

Guising and Trick-or-Treating

One of the most well-loved aspects of Halloween is dressing up in costume. This tradition started at least in the 16th century in the United Kingdom. During Sahmhain, mumming and guising was a very popular pastime. People would dress up in costume or disguise, often impersonating the Aos Sí or the souls of the dead, and would receive offerings of good fortune in return. It was also believed that wearing these disguises served as protection against these spirits. Our modern habit of wearing costumes may also have its origins in the Christian tradition of souling. This All Hallows’ custom was practiced at least starting in the 15th century. Groups of people would dress up as saints or devils and would go from door to door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for a prayer for the dead of the household. Today, people in countries around the world have traded in traditional costume garb for any array of “guising” and soul cakes for candy. However, the trick-or-treat concept holds true through the generations. eery image of a Jack O’Lantern surrounded by mist Source: National Geographic

Jack-O-Lanterns

When Samhain first came into existence, pagans believed that evil spirits thrived in the shadows around bonfires. To light their paths, they carved faces on large, hollowed-out turnips and placed candles inside. The light shone through the carved vegetables, with the illuminated faces scaring off the evil spirits. They also felt the lights showed the way to their homes for good spirits. These carved turnips eventually received the name jack o’lantern from the Irish, named after a legend about a farmer named Jack who bargained with the devil. After All Hallows’ Eve traditions migrated with immigrants to America, the pumpkin quickly became a replacement for the turnip.

Modern Day Halloween

We celebrate many Halloween traditions linked to these ancient global customs without even knowing it. The more you would dig into the history, the more parallels you would see. For now, celebrate this Halloween knowing the original reason for your costume and perhaps, if you dare, start handing out those soul cakes. Happy Halloween to all!


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