October 20, 2011 • Erin Finley, Editor
Filed under News
Halloween is a widely celebrated tradition throughout the United States. It has become a spooky treat filled holiday, but it wasn’t always this way. Halloween started as a Celtic festival called Samhain and was celebrated on Oct. 31. The festival honored the end of summer and harvest and ushered in a dark winter. This dark winter often symbolized death to the Celts.
The association of death and winter lead to a belief that on Oct. 31, the dead returned to earth as ghosts because the boundary between the dead and living was blurred. The Celts believed that the presence of spirits destroyed crops but also allowed the Druids (Celtic priests) to make predictions. As part of the festival, Celts constructed a bonfire for sacrifices and wore animal costumes. The bonfire was used to relight hearth fires because Celts believed that the sacred bonfire would protect them during the winter.
When the Roman Empire conquered the Celts, many of their traditions were merged together. Eventually a pope created a day to honor Christian martyrs. This day eventually transformed into All-hallows Eve, which is now what we call Halloween.
As pilgrims began to settle American, customs brought from Europe and those of the Indians fused together creating an American Halloween. During the first celebrations, a public party was held to celebrate the harvest. These celebrations included stories of the dead as well as fortune telling. As Irish people escaped from the potato famine and fled to America, they brought some of the original traditions. Some of these traditions included costumes and an early form of trick-or-treating. As Halloween became a nation-wide event, it was encouraged to remove the scary details from the original celebration and because of this Halloween lost some of its original superstitious nature.
The Origins of Halloween Traditions
Apples: Apples are associated with “immortality, resurrection and knowledge”. Several traditions revolve around the use of apples.
- Apple Bobbing: Originated when unmarried people would bob for apples and whoever took a bite out of one first would be the next to marry.
- Peeling an apple in front of a mirror lit by candlelight would show and an image of a women’s future husband.
- Creating an unbroken peel would determine your life expectancy.
Trick-or-treating: This tradition may have evolved from several previous traditions. Druids believed spirits would play tricks on humans and in order to prevent them from doing so, food was given to Druids as they traveled door to door. It may also have originated from a European tradition called Souling. On All Souls Day (Nov. 2) people would “walk from village to village begging for soul cakes.” This cakes were pieces of bread with currants. The people would say prayers for the dead based on the number of soul cakes they received. Early Christians believed that souls didn’t go immediately to heaven after death and prayers would help them get there faster.
Jack-o-lanterns: The Irish would carve turnips or potatoes and then they would be lit for Halloween celebrations. The name Jack-O-Lanterns originated from the story of Jack who was a wicked Irish villain. When Jack died God or the Devil didn’t accept him so he wanders the earth looking for a place to stay.