By Samantha Loomes
As the summer drew to a close in October 18 A.D, all the Celtic people gathered across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France to prepare to celebrate the festival of Samhain. The festival of Samhain was celebrated on the 31 October to mark the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter.
It also marked the end of their year as they celebrated their New Year on November 1. On the night of Samhain, the Celts believed that the barrier between the supernatural world and the natural became very thin, thin enough that spirits would move through the barrier and walk among mortals for a night.
The Celtic celebrations were an attempt to scare the nasty spirits away. The night was also very important because on top of the hell-raising the spirits could cause, the supposed presence of other spirits helped the Celtic priests (Druids) of the time to make prophecies or predictions about the future. At the time these predictions were passionately believed and incredibly important to the Celtic people.
In celebration of the event, the Druids built massive bonfires to sacrifice animals and plants. The Celtic people also wore costumes made from animal parts and took part in light-hearted fortune telling.
The Roman Empire which had taken control of almost all of the Celtic land by 43 A.D., incorporated two festivals into the Celtic tradition, the first being when they celebrated the passing of the dead late in October called Feralia and the second was a day to honor the goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona.
Pomona is the symbolized through the image of an apple which explains why “apple bobbing” was incorporated into Halloween.
On May 13, 609 A.D. the Roman Catholic church created the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day which was later expanded to include All Saints Day as well as all Martyrs festival and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.
The Christian influence had spread into the Celtic lands by the 9th century and their traditions and cultures were incorporated into their daily lives. Things like the creation of All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead was celebrated on November 2nd. People often speculate that this was the Church’s attempt at replacing the Celtic festival. It is also believed that if you prayed hard enough on this day you could get one of your dead relatives into heaven.
The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-Hallows and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Halloween only really became popular in the western world when the Catholic and Protestant churches populations and traditions merged, it’s through this worldwide mixing of different cultures that Halloween first emerged. The first celebrations included “play parties,” events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing.
In the nineteenth century, America experienced a large influx of new immigrants. These immigrants, particularly the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween in the U.S.
Still borrowing other countries traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.
This is the story of Halloween, the story of a holiday that is loved and hated by many, but like it or not it has been recognized for over 2000 years and probably will be for another 2000.