The Origin and History of Halloween
HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN: What you Perhaps Didn’t Know About the Spooky Festival
It’s Halloween soon, which should have young kids throughout America and Europe wetting themselves with excitement while putting the final touches to their little Frankenstein outfits. But why does Halloween excite South Africans so much? We have absolutely nothing to do with the holiday. Any excuse to celebrate I guess…
If you are one of ‘those people’ (no offense) you might find it interesting to know what you’re actually celebrating.
History of Halloween: Pagan Festival of the Dead
Halloween is celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting “haunted houses” and carving jack-o-lanterns – usually out of pumpkins.
Most of the customs connected with Halloween are remnants of ancient religious beliefs and rituals. These were first practiced by the ancient Druids and then transcended amongst the Roman Christians who conquered them.
The American version of Halloween Day celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) Druidic fire festival called “Samhain” – an ancient Celtic festival. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th-Century.
Halloween and Samhain
The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter.
It was believed that on October 31 the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped. The deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.
A feast of the dead was often held, which was intended to give rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered up prayers for them and made oblations.
Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them. Such festivities frequently involve bonfires, which attracted insects to the area which subsequently attracted bats. Thus the addition of bats entered into the history of Halloween.
History of Halloween: Trick or Treat?
Trick-or-treating is an activity for children during Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes asking for treats by enthusiastically screaming “trick or treat!?” The “trick” part of trick or treat is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given.
It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters. Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.
Part of the history of Halloween is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling” when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).
Behind the name Halloween
Halloween, or the Hallow E’en as they call it in Ireland , means All Hallows Eve, or the night before the ‘All Hallows’. It is also called ‘All Hallowmas’, or ‘All Saints’, or ‘All Souls’ Day, observed on November 1. In old English the word ‘Hallow’ means ‘sanctify’.
The History of Halloween and the Mass Media
Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities. It was also popularised by Halloween episodes on network radio programs. The Baby Snooks Show in 1946, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948 all helped to popularise Halloween further.
The custom of Halloween had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat. Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. UNICEF was the first to conduct a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.
Happy Halloween! :)