Halloween History

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain ( sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, who celebrated their new year on 1st of November. The day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter.  This time of year that was often associated with human death.  Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.  Therefore, on the night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.  Apart from causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.  Many were entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter. ahead.

On this day Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, usually consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory.  Two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.  The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple this probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today at Halloween.

On May 13th, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church.  Pope Gregory III (731–741) expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the date from May 13th to November 1st.  In the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it  blended with  the older Celtic rites.  In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2nd All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead.  It is believed  that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday.

All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

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