While Halloween may seem like a bipolar holiday containing both frightening figures and cheerful children running around collecting candy, the holiday actually involves a more “spirited” background.
Like the practices associated with Halloween, the origin of the holiday evolved over time. The 2,000 year old Celtic people in what is known today as Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of Great Britain began the Halloween tradition with their celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”). For the Celts, the new year began Nov. 1, signaling the end of summer and its harvest and marking the beginning of winter. Winter, associated with cold and darkness, marked a time of higher amounts of human death. Because of this, the Celts believed that on Oct. 31, the day before the new year, the veil between the worlds of the living and dead blurred, allowing the ghosts of the dead to return to the realm of the living.
As time went on, the Roman Empire conquered Celtic territory. In the 400 years the Roman Empire controlled Celtic land, two major Roman festivals synthesized with the Samhain celebration. The first Roman holiday to integrate with Samhain, Feralia, occured in late October and honored the passing of the dead. The second Halloween-related holiday incorporated the Roman goddess Pomona, whose symbol is the apple.
According to Regina Hansen, a lecturer in rhetoric at the College of General Studies at Boston University and expert in the portrayal of the supernatural in film and literature, Halloween celebrations demonstrate evidence of Roman influence. “Halloween also has some elements of the Romans celebrating Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. That was like a harvest feast, and we have elements of that today in our Halloween celebration — we bob for apples, for instance,” Hansen said.
Modern-day Halloween activities mirror Celtic practices as well as Roman ones. While the Celts believed that the presence of revived spirits caused damage to crops, they also believed the spirits provided easier access for Celtic priests, or Druids, to make the predictions about the future the Celts were dependent upon. To celebrate the arrival of the spirits, Druids constructed enormous bonfires for people to burn sacrifices to their gods. During the commemoration, the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins, which is likely where the practice of wearing costumes during modern-day Halloween stems from.
The arrival of Halloween in the U.S. parallels that of the Protestants to the American colonies. Although the Protestant belief system limited Halloween celebrations in New England, the holiday played a role in Maryland and southern colonies’ festivities. Although not officially celebrated, Halloween activities added to festivities, such as “play parties,” which included harvest celebrations, story tellings of the deceased, fortune tellers, and dancing and singing. When Irish immigrants escaping the Irish Potato Famine arrived in America, the popularity of Halloween skyrocketed, becoming more like the national holiday we know today.
With its roots in Celtic and Roman culture, the tradition of Halloween evolved into a chance to step out of your comfort zone. Check out the quiz on section on ipatriotpost.com to find content on what Halloween means to you through spooky quizzes and polls.