This History of Halloween: Do You Know the Real Reason for Trick or Treating?
This year—like any year—you’re probably getting ready for Halloween. The stores have all the costumes and decorations and you hear all the kids excited about going trick or treating.
But do you know the history of Halloween? Do you know the true story behind it and what it actually stands for?
This isn’t just one of those Hallmark holidays. It’s definitely not something started for fun in the United States and brought around the rest of the world. There is a deeper meaning to the night—and for some it is a religious night.
The Celtic Festival of Samhain
The origins of Halloween date back well over 2,000 years ago, in the areas that are now Ireland and Scotland. They were the Celtic people, and celebrated Samhain—their New Year. The date was actually November 1, and October 31 was their version of New Year’s Eve.
This was the mark of summer’s end, when the nights grew dark and cold and harvest had ended. It was also a time of year associated with death.
The belief was that on October 31 the border that separated the dead from the living was blurred. Ghosts would pass through and visit the living. This is something American Horror Story focused on in Seasons 1 and 5. In the past, though, people believed that the ghosts would damage crops and cause trouble, and that the Druid priests would be able to predict the future better.
Because of all this, the night was celebrated through the use of bonfires, animal sacrifices, and burning crops. Costumes were worn, specifically animals skins and heads. There were attempts to tell the fortunes of others.
Bonfires would be extinguished during the night and then relit later as health fires. This was a ritual to protect the people from the winter that was still to come.
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The Development of Samhain
When the Roman Empire conquered most of the Celtic territory. Samhain was combined with a couple of the Roman celebrations. The first was Feralia to commemorate people passing over. The second was to celebrate the Goddess of Fruit and Trees, Pomona.
The combination of the latter is likely why events like bobbing for apples now takes place at Halloween. Pomona’s symbol is the apple. It makes a bit more sense now, considering apples don’t really have anything to do with the original celebration.
Of course, the Christian religion didn’t involve celebrating Samhain or have a festival of the dead at all. However, in 609A.D. Pope Boniface IV dedicated a day to the Christian martyrs, known as All Martyrs Day. This was originally held on May 13, but it was moved to November 1 in the eighth century by Pope Gregory III and it later became All Souls’ Day. It soon blended in with the Celtic rites as Christianity swept across the Celtic nations. Like with many Christian holidays, there is now the belief that the church wanted to replace the Celtic and pagan festivals with church-sanctioned days. Those who celebrated All Souls Day did it in the same way as Samhain was previously celebrated. The night before was renamed All-hallows, which eventually changed to All Hallows Eve and now Halloween.
Dressing Up and Trick Or Treating
The starts of today’s Halloween began in the southern American colonies, as festivities meshed with the Native American’s beliefs and rituals. The south didn’t have the same strict protestants as the north. But they still weren’t the same as today’s dressing up and trick or treating.
Halloween 1908 pic.twitter.com/w5MI9U7z0y
— History in Moments (@historyinmoment) October 1, 2016
It wasn’t actually until the 1800s when the Irish came to American that the more modern traditions were started. Americans took stock of the English and Irish people who would ask for food and money. They went around houses, asking for either. Eventually, the tradition turned into asking for a trick or treat.
As the 1800s progressed, so did the traditions. People would gather to tell ghost stories and play pranks on each other. They would discuss and practice witchcraft. By the start of the 1900s, costume parties were held. The religious overtones started to disappear, and it soon became what is considered now as a “Hallmark holiday.”
Trick or treating had started to lose its way, but it came back around the 1950s. It was an inexpensive way for the community to enjoy the night together. This was also a time that the pranks and vandalism had started to get out of hand, so the treats were a bribe to stop neighborhood kids from pranking homes.
Halloween is now American’s second largest commercial holiday! People spend around $6 billion per year on the day, whether through costumes, treats, or decorations. Recent reports state that spending will reach more than $8 billion this year!
Now you know about the history of Halloween. It hasn’t always been this commercial holiday and was once a religious festival. The next time someone asks about it, you can share your knowledge.