Although Halloween is considered to be a very commercial American festival, it is actually a very old tradition going back many hundreds of years. It’s history is very tangled with many influences.
Some of the very earliest are from medieval times with Celtic and Pagan celebrations marking the end of summer which was also thought to be a good time to remember the dead. This became the Celtic festival of Samhain on October 31st which was followed throughout much of the British Isles at the time. The people marked the death of summer and welcomed the dead into their homes.
Over time Christianity’s influence became more apparent with ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ being observed before the important festivals on the 1st and 2nd of November. This started in the late 8th century and continues today. In the UK, however, the popularity waned generally in the 17th century due to Bonfire Night (5th of November) but was kept alive in Scotland and Ireland which were also a large source of of immigrants to North America.
It was the United States that has had the greatest influence on Halloween over the last 100 years. Despite very little interest in the celebration in the early years of the country, the festival became mainstream and much more popular at the start of the 20th century. This has been spread internationally by American culture, TV and films which has lead to some very familiar interpretations of older traditions:
Trick or Treating – based on the Irish habit of children visiting neighbours houses ‘to beg’
Costumes – it was common to dress up children while visiting
Pumpkins – comes from the idea that meat should be avoided before the Christian festivals
Witches – from pagan medicine women
Skeletons, ghosts and vampires – one way of welcoming the dead into our homes!
And much more!
No matter what the history, have a happy Halloween!