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The History of Halloween

Terri Goodman

Halloween is more than two thousand years old, with origins in ancient Celtic and Roman traditions. The modern celebration of Halloween has incorporated elements from various cultures and traditions as it evolved over time.

The Celts who lived in what is now Ireland, celebrated the ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced "sow-in") to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The US association of Halloween with ghosts, goblins, and costumes reflects their belief that the boundary between the living world and the spirit world was thin at that time, allowing spirits to cross over into the mortal realm. They lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off these spirits.

When the Romans conquered the Celtic territories, Celtic beliefs merged with Roman traditions over time. The Roman festival Feralia, which commemorated the passing of the dead, and a festival dedicated to the goddess Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, both occurred around the same time as Samhain. Together these contributed to the evolving traditions of Halloween.

Then came Christian influence with a more direct association with our Halloween. The church attempted to Christianize pagan celebrations by incorporating elements of Samheim into their celebrations. In the 7th century, the Catholic Church established All Saints' Day on November 1st to honor saints and martyrs. All Saints’ Day was also known as All Hallows' Day and the night before, October 31st, became known as All Hallows' Eve, the original version of our Halloween., which eventually evolved into Halloween.

Halloween continued to evolve during the Middle Ages, incorporating customs from various European cultures. Souling and guising were activities involving people going door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food or money, or dressing up in costumes and performing for treats, a direct influence on trick or treat.

Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the Halloween tradition to North America in the 19th century. Halloween became more community-focused, with parties, parades, and the practice of trick or treat becoming widespread. In the 20th century, Halloween became commercialized with the production and sale of costumes, decorations, and candies to celebrate the holiday.

Halloween imagery including witches, ghosts, goblins, and pumpkins have become ingrained in the popular culture. Trick or treat has become a prominent tradition, with children dressed in costumes going door to door in their neighborhoods. Halloween remains a festive and spooky celebration enjoyed by people of all ages.


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