Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is a global celebration that occurs on October 31 each year. Though today it’s all about wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, and trick-or-treating, everybody’s favorite spooky holiday didn’t begin like this.
An Ancient Celtic Ritual
In the ancient Celtic community, there was an annual event called Samhain. Put simply, this is a festival that celebrates the changing of the season, as it goes from summer to winter or light to dark. Historically, the Samhain occurred around November 1.
During the event, sweets would be prepared, and a bonfire lit. The guests would wear costumes to ward off evil spirits because ancient Celts believed that during this time of year, the veil that separates the living world from the dead world is the thinnest.
The Church Creates Their Own Celebration
However, early Christian officials made an attempt to create their own holiday to stop their followers from engaging in non-Christian festivals. Eventually, Pope Gregory III named November 1 All Saints’ Day as a way to celebrate Christian saints and martyrs. He also called November 2 All Souls Day and dedicated it as a remembrance of the souls of the dead.
Later, All Saints’ Day was renamed All Hallows’ Day, with the day before, October 31, becoming known as All Hallows’ Eve, and later, Halloween.
Despite the church’s best efforts, parishioners continued to celebrate Halloween with traditional costumes, bonfires, and treats, focusing on the spirits of the dead. But don’t confuse Halloween with Dia de Muertos, its Mexican cousin, which is its own separate holiday that’s celebrated around the same time of year. Dia de Los Muertos, as it’s also known, runs from October 31 until November 2. Though Halloween focuses on death’s more grim, dark aspects, Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the connection between the worlds of the living and that of the dead and life after death.
Sure, Halloween originated in Europe, but the early settlers brought the celebration we know and love today. In the beginning, they carved turnips with candles inside to keep evil spirits away, but in America, they transitioned to pumpkins.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s short story from 1820, became one of the country’s first ghost stories that depicted the holiday. However, the holiday underwent its most significant transformation within the past 50 years or more, thanks to Hollywood and candy companies.
Since it’s associated with all things spooky, undead, and dark, Halloween has also become the most popular holiday for releasing horror shows or films. Perhaps the best example of this is John Carpenter’s 1978 movie, Halloween. This movie altered the public perception of the holiday, going from a night for kids to dress in costumes to a night of sheer terror.
Each year, towns and cities around the world celebrate with parades, festivals, and haunted theme park events. Regardless of how the holiday is celebrated or which aspects of Halloween are celebrated, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon that compares to Christmas in regards to how important and widespread it is to the people.
And most importantly, no matter how you decide to celebrate this year, be sure to have a safe and Happy Halloween!