Halloween Customs Through the Years
Halloween is a holiday that is loved by most people, young and old alike, but where did our modern day Halloween practices come from? I have found myself asking this same question as I get my children dressed up in magical or scary costumes to go trick or treating. So where did our traditions come from?
The Celts and Samhain:
The Celts, not the basketball team, were a group of people who lived about 2,000 years ago. They ancestors make up a large portion of the population in Ireland, The British Isle, and Northern France. They celebrated a holiday known as, Samhain (pronounced sow-in). They believed that November 1st was the beginning of a new year and was the one time of the year that they could openly speak with their ancestors. They would have large bonfires while their priests would ask the ancestors about the coming year. They would dress in animal skins and heads, as well as sacrifice animals and grain to the spirits. They would all take home a bit of the sacred fire to their own hearts because they believed this would help them survive the long and harsh winter months.
The Roman Influence:
The Romans played a huge part in the development of our Halloween practices. As is well known, the Romans conquered much of what is now Europe and the Middle East. As they did so, they brought their religions and practices with them. The Romans would integrate their holidays in with holidays they considered to be Pagan while outlawing the traditions of the people they conquered. The Romans replaced Samhain with All Saints Day. It was one of the only days of the year that people were able to commune with other gods. All Saints Day was originally a combination of two Roman holidays, Feralia and the celebration of Pomona. Feralia was a Roman celebration of the dead, and Pomona was a goddess associated with fruit trees. Perhaps, this is why one of our Halloween customs is to bob for apples.
Day of the Dead:
Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, has started to become a major part of modern day Halloween customs. I have been seeing huge amounts of sugar skulls in the Halloween decorations at the store. Day of the Dead is the Mexican celebration of All Saints Day. Day of the Dead actually covers three days, October 31st (Children’s day), November 1st (All Saints day), and November 2nd (All Souls Day). People who celebrate Day of the Dead often go to the graves of their ancestors and family and have large picnics. They also leave food and sugar skulls for their deceased family. They also set up family altars in their homes, with pictures and important items, of their family members. It is believed that during these days, you are visited by a family that has passed away. Day of the Dead fist came around about 3,000 years ago before Catholicism came to Central and South America.
America is made up of so many different cultures, it is no wonder that our Halloween is a combination of so many other Halloween Customs. Jack O’ Lanterns come from the Irish legend of “Stingy Jack.” Bobbing for apples can possibly have come from the Roman celebration Pomona. Dressing up in costumes was originally an ancient belief that we could trick the spirits walking along side us that we were also spirits. All of this comes together to create the holiday we all know and love.
Halloween customs have changed a lot as our world has grown and changed. What started as a way to communicate with spirits about what the next year will be like has gradually changed into a celebration of everything fun and scary.