Origins of Halloween began many years although Halloween has only become a popular celebration recently.

About Halloween Ancient Origins

Halloween’s origins date back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in Ireland (as it is now known), the United Kingdom and north France. The Celts celebrated new year on November 1 which marked the end of summer and beginning of the dark, cold winter. This time of year was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before their new year, the boundaries of the worlds of the living and dead blurred. On the night of 31 October the Celts celebrated Samhain, when it was believed the ghosts and spirits of the dead returned to earth. The Celts believed the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Celtic priests (Druids) to make future predictions. Such prophecies were a source of comfort and direction during the long winter.

The Druids built sacred bonfires and people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifice. During the celebrations, the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins and predicted fortunes. When the celebrations were over, hearth fires which had been extinguished earlier that evening were relit from the sacred bonfire to protect them during the winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire conquered most Celtic territory and during their rein the two festivals of Roman origin were combined with Celtic Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the dead. The second day honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and this may explain the tradition of “bobbing” for apples at Halloween.

On 13 May 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was born in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) expanded the festival to include all saints as well as martyrs and moved the date from 13 May to 1 November. By the 9th century Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands, where it gradually supplanted older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church made 2 November All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. It is believed that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related but church approved holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain. Big bonfires were lit, parades under way and people dressed in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (being Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve. Eventually, Halloween.

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About Halloween Superstitions

Halloween is surrounded by mystery, magic and superstition. During Celtic times at the Celtic year end people felt especially close to their deceased. For these spirits, they set places at dinner and left treats on doorsteps and along roads as well as lighting candles so loved ones could find their way back to the spirit world. Halloween ghosts today are depicted malevolent and modern customs and superstitions are scarier. We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid this will bring us bad luck. This idea dates back to the Middle Ages when people believed that witches transformed themselves into cats to avoid detection. We avoid walking under ladders. This superstition may originate from the ancient Egyptians, who believed triangles were sacred. Also around Halloween in particular we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt.

Some older traditions as well as focusing on the dead related to the living. Many had to do with helping young women identify future husbands. A matchmaking cook might bury a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it. Some fortune-tellers advised that an eligible young woman name a hazelnut for each of her suitors and then toss the nuts into the fire. The nut that burned to ashes rather than popping or exploding represented the future husband. (In some versions the opposite was true and the nut that burned away depicted a love that would not last.) Another superstition was that if a young woman ate a sugary concoction made out of walnuts, hazelnuts and nutmeg before bed on Halloween night she would dream of her future husband. Young women tossed apple peelings over their shoulders with the idea the peelings would fall in the shape of their future husbands’ initials. Some young women tried to learn their futures by peering at egg yolks floating in water and stood in front of mirrors in darkened rooms, holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their husbands’ faces. Some rituals were competitive and at some Halloween parties, the first guest to find a burr on a chestnut hunt would marry the first or the first successful apple-bobber would be the first to wed.

Read more about the History of Halloween

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Halloween 13: Origins of Halloween