Having grown up near Salem MA, Halloween has been no small event in my life. Around here it is the Mardi Gras of the Northeast. But Halloween and its traditions did not start here.
So where did this night devoted to tricks and merriment come from? The same place that brings as leprechauns, fairies and four-leaf clovers: Ireland.
Halloween has transformed from a celebration originally called Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sah-win). Samhain means "Summer's End" and the holiday was the marking of the Celtic new year. On this, the most significant holiday in the Celtic calendar, it was believed that the souls of the dead could mingle with the living. Samhain was the day that all of the souls that had passed over the course of the year would make their journey to the underworld. This "thinning of the veil" would allow for souls to move back and forth between the two lands.
Enter Christianity and Pope Gregory I. In 601 A.D., he instructed missionaries to incorporate the Christian holidays into the existing pagan holidays. Later, Pope Gregory III (731–741) made Nov 1 All Saints Day to honor saints and martyrs. Following Gregory I's lead, he incorporated elements and traditions of Samhain into the holiday. October 31 then became All Hallow's Eve.
All Hallow's Eve gradually transformed into the fun-for-all-ages, spooky holiday we know and love. The pagan deities eventually became our modern day fairies and leprechauns.
That is the quick version of how the spookiest of holidays came to be. Costumes, trick or treating, and bobbing for apples all evolved over time from rituals and practices throughout the British Isles.
Bobbing for apples (which is disgusting, I might add) is believed to originate from Pamona, the Roman goddess of trees that bear fruit and nuts. By 432 A.D. most of the lands that once belonged to the Celts had been conquered by the Roman Empire. It is believed that bobbing for apples stems from the Romans' attempts to incorporate Celtic celebrations into their own.
Jack O-Lanterns did not originate as pumpkins. Kids in England used large beets, while turnips were the root of choice for the Irish and Scottish. The veggies were carved and carried from house to house while kids sang and asked for money.Dressing up in costume and trick-or-treating is believed to come from the medieval practices of Souling and Guising. Souling traditionally took place on November 2. The poor would beg for pastries called "Soul Cakes." They would promise to offer up prayers to deceased loved ones as payment. The entire process was named "Souling." When kids went out guising, it wasn't a one-way handout the way it is today. They would dress up and sing, dance, or tell jokes in order to get hand outs of wine, fruit, or money. Wow, have times changed!
When immigrants came to the United States from Great Britain, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. The British Isles and North America aren't the only places with spooky traditions, however.
In Belgium, candles are lit in memory of decease loved ones. In Germany, knives are put away to avoid harm.
The Chinese celebrate a Halloween festival called Teng Chieh. People will leave food and water out along with photographs of those who have passed. They also light fires and lanterns to light the way for earth's spiritual wanderers.
From October 31 until November 2, " El Dia de los Muertos" is celebrated in Mexico. The "Day of The Dead" has origins in ancient Mexican culture. The modern day, festive occasion is a celebration of the cycle of life and a families ancestors and friends that have passed. It is an elaborate and expensive celebration featuring parades, graveside picnics, and lots of decorations and offerings.
France is the late comer to the Halloween party. Halloween didn't gain any momentum in the country until about 1982 when a Paris restaurant called The American Dream started to celebrate the holiday. Since then, through travel and the internet, the holiday has been growing in popularity.
So there it is, the down-low on a day filled with candy, costumes, and mayhem. The sacrifices and religion have fallen by the wayside to reveal a day where even the littlest of kids can get in touch with their spooky side.