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The History of Halloween

todayOctober 10, 2021 72 1 4 5

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By Autumn McGowan
Web Content Contributor

It’s officially spooky season! For lovers of Halloween, the entire month of October is a celebration of all things creepy, but have you ever wondered about the origins of the holiday? As it turns out, it didn’t originate in the U.S.

The roots of what we now know as Halloween come from the ancient Celtic new year festival of Samhain. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker, colder half of the year associated with death. During this transition, the Celts believed that the veil between worlds was the thinnest and that they could easily communicate with their dead ancestors.

During the festival, which usually took part over a three-day period, the Celts wore costumes, held bonfires and made sacrifices to appease the spirits. The ancient Celts practiced polytheism, meaning they worshipped multiple gods, so how did this pagan festival make its way into American culture?

Well, in the year 609 A.D., after Rome had conquered most of the Celtic land, Pope Boniface IV declared May 13th to be All Martyrs Day, honoring those who had died for their Christian beliefs. In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved All Martyrs Day to November 1st, which was the day of the original Samhain festival. It’s believed that this move was made to take advantage of the popular pagan festivities and sway Celts towards more Christian beliefs. October 31st became known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween.

From there, the celebration made its’ way to America when millions of Irish immigrants fled Ireland during The Great Famine in the 1800s. Before this, autumn festivals were popular in the colonies, but they did not have any traces of ghosts or spirits. With them, the Irish brought their traditions of pulling pranks on the evening of Halloween and asking their neighbors for money and food (what later became trick-or-treating).

In the 1920s, the pranks got out of hand when businesses and residences started getting vandalized, and big cities made a push to rebrand Halloween as a more family-friendly, community-based holiday. Neighbors began giving out handmade treats, coins, and toys. However, during World War II, sugar had to be rationed, making it difficult for people to prepare treats.

Post-war, trick-or-treating was revived, and candy companies cashed in on the holiday by launching national ad campaigns specifically for Halloween. Now Halloween is the second biggest holiday in the United States for candy purchases, with $10.14 billion expected to be spent in 2021.

We can imagine Pope Gregory rolling in his grave now because Halloween has reverted to its’ roots in some ways. Obviously, trick-or-treating is for the kids, but some of the plethora of Halloween entertainment we have now can definitely be classified as otherworldly. Also, it’s important to note that Samhain is not just an old-world, ancient celebration. It is still celebrated by pagan practitioners sans sacrifices.

Featured Image by Karen McGowan, formatted by Autumn McGowan on Canva.

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