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Halloween Origins

Posted By:

Early Learning Furniture


27 October 2015

Halloween occurs on the night of the 31st of October, the eve of All Saints’ Day and is often celebrated by children dressing up in frightening masks and costumes. Houses are decorated with scary props and the children go trick or treating, which is perhaps now the most common Halloween tradition. This involves going from house to house in the neighbourhood collecting various sweets & treats. But what are the origins of Halloween?

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celts lived 2000 years ago in what is now Ireland and northern France, and celebrated this festival named Samhain (pronounced sow-in), this marked the start of their new year and the end of summer.

Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and so on the night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain. It was thought that the otherworldly spirits caused trouble and damaged crops.

To commemorate this event, Druids built sacred bonfires where people gathered to burn crops. During this celebration the Celts wore home-made costumes and told each other’s fortunes. 

By 43 A.D. the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. This is when two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the celebration of Samhain. The first being Feralia, a day in which Romans commemorated the passing of the dead and the second was to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and tress. This may explain the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today.

Pope Gregory III expanded the festival to celebrate all saints as well as all martyrs and this became known as All Saints Day, this celebration however was also known as All-Hallows and the night before became known as All-Hallows eve and eventually, Halloween.

Halloween in America

Halloween was a much more common celebration in the southern colonies than in the northern colonies of America. This is where an American version of Halloween began to emerge, one that is more similar to what we celebrate today.

The first celebrations included parties with public events held to celebrate the harvest and where neighbours would share stories of the dead, tell fortunes, dance and sing. Festivities also included the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making.

Immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century helped to popularise the celebration of Halloween nationally, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine. Americans began to dress up in costumes and go from house to house asking for food or money, this practice would eventually become todays “trick or treating” tradition.

In the late 1800s Halloween in America became a holiday more about community and neighbourly get-togethers than about ghosts and pranks. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes.

By the 1920s and 30s Halloween had become a secular by community-centred holiday with parades and town wide parties. Despite the best efforts of schools and communities however, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. This was successfully limited by the 1950s and the holiday evolved once more into one directed mainly at the young. During the time the old tradition of trick or treating was revived. Trick or treating was a relatively cheap way for communities to share Halloween celebration, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighbourhood children with treats. Today Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest holiday.

Halloween Traditions & Superstitions

  • Jack-O’-Lanterns

People have been carving gourds and pumpkins and using them as lanterns long before being associated with Halloween. The name “Jack-O’-lantern” began as a nickname for a night watchman (a man holding a lantern), dating back to 1663.

For more information on what you can do with Pumpkins this Halloween see our article “10 things to do with a pumpkin”

  • Trick or Treat!

It is thought that trick or treating evolved as an antidote for Halloween pranksters as it provided a healthier activity for the young and gave them an incentive not to play tricks. Trick or treating involves children going door to door dressed in costume and asking for treats, traditionally if the children did not receive any treats then they would play a trick on the homeowner.

  • Apple Bobbing

Apple bobbing involves a bucket or container of water with multiple apples floating in it, you then have to grab and remove the apples using only your mouth. This tradition probably comes from the Roman celebration Pomona which honours the goddess of fruit and trees.

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Halloween by posting to us on Facebook or Twitter.

We hope you have a lovely Halloween from the Early Learning Furniture




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