With all of the costumes, candy, and partying, it’s easy to forget why Halloween became a holiday in the first place. People become so focused on the entertainment, they forget about the rich history that has led to today’s culmination of morbid imagery and horrifying fun. We all have thousands of years of culture to thank for this splendidly unique evening of celebration, and today we’re going to examine exactly how Halloween came about.
Halloween was first celebrated by the Celts living in northern France, Ireland, and the UK. Back then, the Celts referred to the day as Samhain, a festival that celebrated the start of a new year. Cattle would be brought down from the hills, allowing everyone to gather in their houses, where they would share stories and perform crafts. Some believe these stories revolved around ghosts and ancestors, to both scare and educate others about their surrounding world. These stories could be the basis for today’s scary Halloween stories.
Sometime later, in England, people began to celebrate All Souls’ Day. This event featured poor individuals approaching the rich for food. Often, the poor begged and performed treats for the food. In turn, the rich would place small cakes (often called “soul cakes”) outside, and the poor had to pray for the rich people’s deceased relatives in order to eat the cake. This ritual led to the giving of sweets to children, who were often dressed in costumes. Eventually this ritual grew, until we have today’s version of trick-or-treating.
As to why everyone dresses up on Halloween, that goes back to the Celts. Apparently, the Celts found winter to be especially harsh, since they could run out of food. Before winter came, the Celts would wear costumes and masks to pray to their gods, hoping for an easier winter. The costumes and masks often looking horrifying, as they were made from whole dead animals. When the English culture combined with the Celtic one, the trick-or-treating ritual took from the Celts’ costume tradition, combining into a single ritual.
Lastly, there’s the matter of carving faces onto a pumpkin. Again, we go back to the Celts (seeing a pattern?) and their habit of carving faces onto potatoes and turnips. Originally, these faces were to be lanterns that scared away the souls of the dead. Overtime, however, like all the other traditions, this reason was lost to the combining of cultures. When the tradition came to America, turnips and potatoes were replaced by pumpkins.
Today, in America, Halloween remains one of the most widely celebrated of holidays. Essentially, it has no religious ties, and so many cultures have add to its current form that it is open to all cultures looking for a good time. From Halloween costumes to candy, trick-or-treating to haunted houses, this holiday has something for everyone. Only time will tell what happens to Halloween in the future. Here’s hoping it continues progressing to become even more awesome!
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