The History of Halloween


It would be nice to sum up the history of Halloween in a single sentence, but the fact is – you can’t. How do you define the roots of this magical and dark experience without missing so many important aspects? How do you explain the celebration of the dead with taunting costumes and silly games? For so many years scholars have been searching for the reasons why people celebrate those who now inhabit a grave through strange, yet wonderful customs. But when it comes down to it, the modern Halloween experience doesn’t have a singular history. In fact, it comes from several traditions. As the years carried them along they began to blend, until they transformed into the great mixture of beautiful darkness. This is the true history of Halloween.

The Theories, the Facts and the End Result – Halloween History

Out of all the existing theories, there are two that have remained the most popular. The first is supported by a large group of scholars and according to them Halloween is primarily rooted within Christianity. However, the theory goes a little deeper. Given that the term “Halloween” originally comes from Christianity, they believe there is a pagan influence that stems from the Celtic Harvest Festivals. More specifically, their findings point to Gaelic Samhain.

In short, Samhain was used to describe summer’s end and the beginning of winter. For one day during this transition the Irish believed spiritual entities had more freedom to explore the physical world. It has even been said that these spirits were lesser gods. According to certain folklorists, like Jack Santino, Halloween became somewhat of a middle-ground between the new found Christianity that swept the country and long standing pagan traditions. If one were to dig a little deeper then this festival might well be inspired by the Romans and their feast of Pomona.

Of course, there are scholars who firmly believe that Halloween only comes from Christian practices. It was, and still is, a method of celebrating those that have died. Even now there are some Christian cultures that visit graveyards on Halloween and light candles as a sign of celebration. The reason why Christianity has such a great influence is mainly because Halloween is the night before All Saints, a holy holiday that was celebrated through most of Europe by the turn of the 12th century. As it gained popularity certain traditions came with it, for example ringing the church bell for the souls who are still in purgatory.

But despite the popularity it enjoyed in Europe, puritan English churches refused to recognize this holiday in North America. It was only after scores of Scottish and Irish people moved to America during the 19th century that Halloween slowly began to expand. Now, there isn’t much politics involved and few people really care where it came from. All that matters is that for 24 hours the dead can easily rise in spiritual form, everyone is allowed to dress in obscene costumes and gathering candy is the order of the day. This is what makes Halloween special in the first place, because all these little things originated from so many different cultures.

The History of Modern Halloween Traditions

To put all this information in perspective and to truly appreciate the beauty of Halloween, consider where all the games, costumes and the lust to find haunted houses come from. A good example would be trick or treating, which was originally known as “mumming” or “souling”, something Christians did during the medieval period. Basically, people would come together, dress up in fancy clothes and go from parish to parish or house to house, asking for soul cakes. In return, they would pray for the souls of those who would provide them with what they asked for. Christians would also abstain from eating meat on Halloween, which is why fruit games became so popular. During the 19th century the Scottish and the Irish changed the dress-code to costumes resembling vampires, ghosts, skeletons and other creatures that are typically associated with the undead. This is also where the pagan influence can clearly be seen.

Now, traditions like mumming have become an activity mainly aimed at children while adults find more entertainment through horror movies, books and supposedly haunted houses. Essentially, there is a definitive influence to this once Christian holy day, but it doesn’t just come from paganism. As the concept of the undead walking the streets became part of pop culture, so many other elements began to join the darkness.

Strangely enough, Halloween in modern times have changed so drastically from traditional ways that some Christians now regard it as devil worship, while a number of pagans simply see it as mockery of their religion. Considering the roots of Halloween and where it comes from, it’s quite difficult to really make a comparison. Scholars can argue as much as they want about where it all started and what it meant to whom, but in the modern world it represents something completely different. In today’s world it sees millions of souls coming together to enjoy the things they would ordinarily fear. It’s a day where you dress as the creature you don’t want to see late at night. This is considered a way of taunting the dead and replacing those deep dark fears by embracing them.

Thanks to creative authors, artists and directors, Halloween has become a celebration that doesn’t just speak to those with religious beliefs. It is now truly a day where the dead can be celebrated in a way that calls for creative expression.

The True History of Halloween

When all is said and done, the true history of Halloween will most likely stay with Jack and his lantern. It will remain within in his haunted mind along with the fairies that surfaced as the summer ended. As the night lights up with restless souls and goblins in search of conversation, the story of Halloween continues to evolve until no history can be found. Because this is the way the undead needs it to be. No, the magical darkness that defines Halloween cannot, and will never, be simple enough to record in a book.

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