Halloween is a October holiday celebrated by people of all ages. Children and adults enjoy selecting costumes, many people visit "haunted house" attractions and others watch horror movies throughout the month. Trick or Treating and costume parties are enjoyed as the final part this month-long celebration.
While people engage in fun Halloween activities, many of them may not know the origins of the holiday.
A Celtic Heritage
Halloween is believed to have evolved from an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain. Samhain was a festival held to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter months. It was a time the Celts believed the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead were temporarily lifted and spirits would travel through the world of the living to reach the Summerands.
Because of this travel, it was believed the living could more easily communicate with their departed loved ones. The Celts would leave food on their alters or doorsteps as offerings to the traveling dead spirits. Single candles were lit and placed in windows to help guide the spirits of ancestors back to the family home. Extra chairs were set at the table for the ghosts of departed loved ones.
The Celts also took action to protect against nature spirits. They would carve faces into hollowed-out turnips to ward off these ghosts. People who traveled at night would wear disguises to fool the spirits. Any crops not harvested by Samhain would be untouchable by humans and left in the fields as gifts for the nature spirits.
Halloween in the United States
As people from the Celtic countries traveled to North America, they brought many Samhain practices with them.
The immigrants tried to continue the practice of carving turnips but found pumpkins to be more readily available. Thus, the craving of pumpkins became a popular Halloween activity.
Spiders, black cats and bats were once believed to have been companions of witches during medieval times. Today they are still associated with Halloween and are can be seen as popular holiday decorations.
The classic Halloween witch is actually derived from the Crone or "Old One", a Pagan goddess. The Crone was also known as an Earth Mother and was considered to represent the change of seasons and wisdom.
The concept of the witch's broom comes from the practice of old women who would use a broom as a walking stick during medieval times. There is an English folk tale that tells of witches using a hallucinogenic lotion to make them feel as if they were flying.
Trick or Treat
The practice of treat-or-treating also has it roots in the Samhain celebration. During that time, it was believed that ghosts would disguise themselves as humans and would knock on the doors of homes to ask for food of money. If the ghost was not given anything, the family would have been cursed or haunted.
There is another Celtic myth that states people would disguise themselves as evil spirits so that the real spirits would be confused and not steal their soul.
The Irish immigrants of the early 1900's brought this custom to America and the practice of children trick-or-treating became popular in the late 1950's.