Halloween is at least 2000 years old. Most of the traditions that we celebrate today have a historical origin (costumes, bobbing for apples, bonfires, devil figures, pumpkins…). Explore the History of Halloween and all its links to ancient history.
Currently, most people agree that the origin of Halloween stems from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). When the Romans conquered the region, 2 festivals were combined with the Druidic festival.
Just remember, the Julian, and then Gregorian (adopted 1582) calendar that we use today was unknown to the pagan world.. Before that, time was set by the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, the equinox and solstice of the Sun.
A common belief is that between Oct 31 eve and Nov 2, an important portal may exist. If the dead do not, or cannot, have access to the mortal realm, it is at least an opportunity to celebrate the lives of our dear loved ones. The celebration of “Dia del los Muertas” best honors this tradition.
I put up a display for my mother and father complete with marigolds, pictures, their favorite things and offerings.
A detailed history
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.</>
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.
Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.