The origin of Halloween is often a question many ask on October 31st. It's the night that ghost's, goblin's and vampires are supposed to come out to stalk the night. However, in today's world, Halloween is mostly a commercial occasion. It is mostly for handing out candy, customs, and decorations. The origins to this special day has been lost to time. My article will explore the origins to Halloween.
The origin of Halloween, most likely comes from Old Irish or Ancient Celtic culture. Halloween is often tied to the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was a festival that celebrated the end of the summer and the beginning of the winter. The ancients believed that on Samhain the border between the netherworld and Earth would be extremely weak. On this night, and this night alone, spirits from the past could touch and influence the world. Family ancestors were invited back into the house to celebrate the festivities and evil spirits were warded off, because they could cause harm. The wards that were used were customs and masks which were supposed to disguise oneself to prevent the spirit from causing harm. The origin of the name comes from a 16th century Scotish word "All-Hallows-Even" or All Hallows Evening. As the centuries passed the name was condensed to be Halloween.
Pumpkins were used by the ancient Irish and Scottish to ward off evil spirits. They would carve faces into a pumpkin and put a candle in it. This was done to ward off any spirit that meant to do harm to the household. In America, pumpkins were much more common, especially in New England. Pumpkins in this region were associated with the harvest. Fall was the beginning of a new harvest season, and pumpkins were widespread, and available to carving.
The ancient customs of Samhain such as masks and customs have been adopted by modern culture and commercialized. Classical horror villains like Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Werewolves and Skeleton creatures have been adopted and made into customs for trick-or-treating. Also, elements from the fall like pumpkins, scarecrows, corn, and other fall seasonal crops have been adopted into the commercialization of Halloween, Candy Corn anyone?
Like other origins of Halloween, trick-or-treating also originates from ancient Ireland. In Ireland, in the Middle Ages, children would go house to house and beg for treats. They would sometimes say a prayer for the ancient dead, or tell a ghost story to get a piece of food. Like I have already discussed the use of masks and customs were prevalent during this period. Children would dress in the makeup of the dead, to ward off evil spirits, that were supposedly common on Samhain.
The practices of Trick-or-treating, elements of the fall culture, masks and customs, and images of the dead were planted in the United States by immigrants from Europe. With the arrival of mass immigration from Europe in the 1900's the holiday of Halloween became fully adopted in the United States. In the years following the 1920s, companies used iconic horror villains for customs and marketed candy for the holiday.