The history of Halloween was not developed down for hundreds of years; some of them are still unclear and subject to discussion. But the most believable history is that Halloween originated in the British Isles out of the Pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain. It goes back as far as 5 B. C. It was believed that spirits rose from the dead and mingled with the living on this day. The Celts left food at their doors or graves to encourage good spirits and wore masks to scare the bad ones.
Some believe that the Romans who invaded England added a few of their own traditions to the celebration of Samhain; such as celebrating the end of the harvest and honoring the dead. Others say that since the Romans never conquered the Celts (Ireland and Scotland) there was no mingling of cultures, and that the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest and honored their dead in this way. Celts believed in transitions, when things change from one thing to another, everything was for a reason. Samhain did what was the turning point of the year (the change of weather). They thought everything changed.
They believed that the world of living and dead were very close at this time, and the spirit of the death was actually free to travel. They thought the souls of all the people who had died during the year traveled into the other world. On October 31st after all the crops were done and put into storage for the winter coming ahead, the Druids and the Celtic priests would meet in the hilltop in the dark of the forest. This meant the strength, size and mistletoe for remaining green in the winter and the most important having berries during the winter was considered sacred.
Celts will also offer sacrifices of crops and animals to thank the gods for the crops and “calm” them for the coming winter. All saints Day originally was on May 13. In 601A. D. Pope Gregory the first issued a famous announcement to his believers regarding the “beliefs” and customs of the people they wanted to convert. In 835 AD, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1st to try to take over the pagan holiday. Finally, the Church chose this new date to mark the papal dedication of a church honoring the saints. Few historians admit that the Catholic Church had a long-lasting policy of joining non-Christian traditions into its holidays.
For example, many historians believe that the church set Christmas on December 25th so that it would match with pagan winter solstice festivities. All Saints Day is a Christian holy day observed by Western Christians on November 1st and by Eastern Christians on the first Sunday of the Pentecost year. It celebrates or “honors” all Christian saints, especially the ones that do not have a name days after them. Most of the saints have their own day to honor them, but with so many thousands of beatified saints, only small percentages are recognized.
Eventually, Pope Boniface IV who officially made official All Saints’ Day in a national holiday to honor all the saints at one time. After many Centuries, the Roman Catholic church, in an effort to do away with pagan holidays, such as Halloween and Christmas, established November 1st as All Saint’s Day (in French, la Toussaint). It is also known that the Christian preparation of celebrating the evening before the holiday like Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, etc. came from the Jewish religion. Jewish holidays start the evening before the actual holiday.
Judaism follows a lunar calendar in which sunset begins the following day. Many Christian families now observe holy days from sundown on one day until sundown on the following day. These celebrations on the eve of All Saint’s Day continued to grow and change. During the massive Irish immigration into United States in the 1840s, Halloween found its way to the United States, where it continued to flourish. This tradition is followed in Latin American countries. People attend churches, which are appropriately draped in black or some may not even be decorated and visit family graves to honor their ancestors.
In some countries they have specific food to bring, For example in Ecuador there are types of bread in the shape of girls and boys decorated with icing and the “colada morada” which is a beverage prepared with blackberries, blueberries, guava and many more ingredients and they eat it late at night at the cemetery. In Spain, the play “Don Juan Tenorio” is traditionally performed for the last hundred years. This tradition is celebrated in many ways and in many countries around the world. Halloween takes its name from All Saints Day because of October 31 was called All Hallow Eve, “eve for all the holy one.
The idea for this holy day goes back to the fourth century, when the Greek Christians. A sacrilegious aspect of this attraction with the dead and the return of the dead as skeletons or other dark forms now expanded to include any peculiar “costume” has become the celebration we know as Halloween. Meanwhile, back in the United States, the colonists were all Protestants and Halloween was theoretically a Catholic holiday. The original settlers in this country found any celebration immoral, especially from the Catholic Religion. In fact, celebrating Christmas in the Massachusetts colony was once illegal, punishable by eviction or death.
When the American Revolution was over, Halloween still never really caught on in America until Europeans began to mesh with American Indians. Most of the country was farmland and the people were too separate from different continents and countries to celebrate traditions from Europe. The chance of getting together was very exciting. They all got together and participated in barn raisings, quilt bees and taffy pulls. People would gather and tell scary stories, dance, sing, eat and light bonfires. After the Industrial Revolution the majority of Americans lived in cities and didn’t have the need to “get together”.
By the end of the Civil War, only certain people celebrated All Saints day and Halloween (Catholics and Episcopalians). People started to worry that the heritage would disappear and the two religions began an aggressive campaigns to put the two holidays on public calendars. It was in late 1800’s when there was a strike in America to make Halloween into a holiday more about the community and get together that about ghosts, pranks and witchcrafts. That’s when parents were encouraged by the media to focus on games, foods of the season and festive costumes.
On the late nineteenth century, United States was flooded with Irish immigrants and helped popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Americans and Irish began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, which nowadays is the “Trick or Treat” tradition. By 1920s and 1930s, Halloween started to become a nonspiritual holiday and focus to be a holiday with parades and big parties. Even though everyone was trying to make this holiday a non-dangerous atmosphere for everybody, vandalism started to become an outbreak in all Halloween celebrations.
By 1950s, town leaders successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed to the young generations. In 1950s, we had high numbers of kids due to the baby boom and parties were moved from town civic centers to classrooms or homes, where they could be more easily accommodated. Trick or treating, became a tradition from the popular All Souls’ Day preparation that was to make “soul cakes,” simple bread desserts with a topping. This costume was called “souling” children would go door to door begging for cakes, which now is “trick or treating”.
For every cake a kid collected, he/she would have to say a prayer for the dead relatives of that family who gave the cake. These prayers will help the souls find the way out of purgatory and go to heaven. The children even sang a “soul cake song” along the lines of the modern “Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat” A popular Irish story about this time was Stingy Jack, on several occasions jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Jack didn’t want to pay for what he consumed so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin.
Jack didn’t pay and kept the coin and put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil to change in his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he won’t bother him for a year but if Jack dies, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack tricked the Devil again in climbing a tree to pick a fruit. While he was up, Jack carved a cross into the tree so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack that he won’t bother him for ten more years. Eventually, Jack died. God wouldn’t let such unpleasant person into heaven.
Since Jack made a pact with the Devil, not to bother him for the next ten years, he didn’t claim his soul either and dint let him into hell. He sent Jack in a dark path with a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the earth since then. The Irish began to refer him as “Jack of the Lantern” and then simply “Jack O’Lantern”. Ireland and Scotland began to do their own version of Jack O’Lantern by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
On the other hand, in England beets are used. Eventually, they immigrated to United States and brought their traditions with them. They found pumpkins, a fruit from America to make the perfect Jack O’Lantern. Despite its origins, nowadays All Saints Day and Halloween are unknown to be related with evil, devil worship, satanic forces, etc. It all started in the early times with the Celts and passed it along to fellows immigrants who migrated to the United States. The immigrants started to continue the celebration of their ancestor’s death.
A new American tradition was born, and it continues to grow. Today, Halloween is a holiday celebrated by both adults and children. Parties, parades and masquerades, such as Mardi Gras are being marketed to celebrate the holiday. Men and women in every costume imaginable are now participating in these celebrations. Many families decorate their houses, yards, dress in costumes, hand out candy or go with their children to collect candy. People celebrate it for fun making it the second largest commercial holiday.