The origins of Halloween began with the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, some 2000 years ago. The United Kingdom, northern France and Ireland would celebrate their New Year on November 1st. It was thought that on October 31st, that there was an overlapping of the worlds between the living and the dead. The Gaels believed that the ghosts of dead people would return from the grave and cause bad things to occur like the destruction of crops and illness among the people.
Samhain was a time for the ancient pagan culture to lay in supplies to last them through the long Winter. The harvest festival would involve great bonfires built by the Druids. These bonfires would inevitably attract insects, which would in turn bring bats in to feast on them. We can see how bats were incorporated in the Halloween narrative. There were also animal sacrifices and fortune telling.
A Documentary on the History Of Halloween:
A variety of costumes and masks would be worn to placate the evil spirits or perhaps mimic them. The earliest costumes mainly consisted of animal hides and animal heads. The wearing of Halloween costumes and begging for treats door to door dates back to the middle ages.
By the time 43 A.D. had rolled around, the Roman armies had conquered most of the territory occupied by the Celtics. The Celtic celebration of Samhain, was combined around that time with two Roman festivals. One was known as Feralia, which occured at the end of October. This was the time the Roman’s honored their dead. The other Roman festival was to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pamona. The apple was used to symbolize Pamona. It is believed that the entrance of the apple into the Samhain festival led to what we now know as bobbing for apples.
There was also a medieval practice known as “souling”. This was when the poor would go door to door asking for food on the night known as Hallowmas, which fell on November 1st. They would receive their food in exchange for prayers offered up on All Souls Day, which fell on November 2nd. This was primarily practiced by the British and Irish.
Halloween History In America
The festivities surrounding Halloween in Colonial America differed depending on where you may have resided at the time. Strict Protestant beliefs for instance, put a limit on that type of celebration in Colonial New England. If you lived in the colonies to the south, chances are you would have had a more enjoyable time. Your country of origin would have also played a part in how you celebrated.There would be festivals where people would dance and sing. Colonists would also tell ghost stories, read fortunes, and talk about the dead. There would also be a bit of mischief making of all types.
The practice of trick-or treating, which had its roots in Ireland and England, really didn’t begin in America until after the turn of the 20th century, around 1911. It wasn’t very wide spread at the time. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the practice really took off.
Vandalism became a recurring problem during the 1930’s and 1940’s. By the time the 1950’s had rolled around, the vandalism aspect had pretty much been under control.
With the influx of the baby boom generation, Halloween had pretty much become an annual celebration centering around the young. School parties, as well as those in the home had become an annual tradition. Trick-or-treating had also made a big comeback during this time period. Trick-or-treating had become a way in which the whole community could participate in the celebration of Halloween, for a reasonable cost. Simply put-give us our treats, and we won’t pull a prank on you!
Halloween history is always changing, and today is no exception. A lot of the trick-or-treating goes on today in shopping malls or community organized parties. Gone are the days when one was reasonably safe going out alone to collect the treats. Today, Halloween is a 6 billion dollar business, second only to Christmas for its ability to rake in revenue. My, how times have changed!
Oxford Dictionaries has a great Halloween timeline.