Halloween is one of the most popular holidays, and generates over $5 billion per year in the United States alone. It seems that every generation celebrates the holiday differently. Children enjoy dressing up and scaring one another while obtaining copious amounts of candy from neighbouring houses. College students enjoy the role-playing/fantasy aspect of the occasion. Cosplayers enjoy the excuse to roll out their latest costume. But how did the holiday get started?
Halloween began as Samhain, a Celtic harvest festival. The ancient celebration marked the end of the Celtic year and was held at the end of summer. The Celts believed that the dead would return to play tricks on those still alive, and that the Druids (their priests) were able to see into the future. They would celebrate the holiday by dressing up in animal skins and dance at bonfires.
When the Romans invaded the Celtic territory, they put their own spin on the ancient tradition. They blended the celebration of Samhain with their own Feralia, a day of honouring the dead, and a day honouring the goddess of fruit, Pomona. It is believed that the celebrations introduced to celebrate Pomana influenced the modern tradition of bobbing for apples. Those who celebrated "All Saints Day" would also dress up, but instead of using animals skins, they would dress up as saints or angels.
Pope Boniface IV introduced the feast day "All Saints Day" on November 1, in 800 A.D. in an attempt to replace the Celtic celebration with something more devout and intended to honour saints and martyrs, rather than all of the dead. Eventually, "All Saints Day" was renamed "All Hallows", making the night before, October 31, "All Hallows Eve". This was eventually shortened to become "Hallowe'en" or "Halloween" as it is commonly spelled. Over time, Scottish men would dress up as the dead on Halloween; a tradition continued today.
When Irish and English immigrants began coming to North America they brought the traditions of Halloween with them. Trick or treating began as "souling"; where poor children would beg for sweet bread in exchange for praying for the donor's soul. In the mid-1800s, young American children began dressing up in costumes and asking for food or money from neighbouring houses. Eventually, this practice became "trick or treating".
The same time period also saw the evolution of Halloween into a community-based holiday, with gatherings and parties held celebrating seasonal food and festive costumes. Halloween eventually became a secular, community-based event by the 1930s, with parties and parades being the focus of the holiday. Today, Halloween has grown into a nearly $6 billion annual tradition.