Origins of Halloween

By Alicia Cram

You can tell that Halloween is approaching as the days grow cool and the evenings grow eerie. Have you ever thought about asking, “Why do we celebrate Halloween?” as the eerie season draws near?

Regardless of Halloween’s past or roots, it is a holiday that is enjoyed by a wide range of people all over the world. All Hallows’ Eve was traditionally the time when the deceased were commemorated. It became cultural over time. Halloween has become incredibly marketed for Americans in the last couple of decades.

Several months before Halloween, we start to see decorations for the holiday in stores. Unfortunately, this commercialized festival now places much more of an emphasis on all things scary or nasty than on innocent costumes. Without question, modern Halloween customs have turned this commercial festival into something that discreetly emphasizes the hideous and diabolical.

Even though it might seem strange, the bible has a lot to do with Halloween. On All Saints’ Day, Christians would celebrate the saints and the metaphysical link between heaven and Earth. All Hallows’ Eve, the night before Halloween, served as its inspiration.

It was claimed that on All Hallows’ Eve, the veil between this world and the afterlife was particularly thin. Especially throughout the Middle Ages, harvest time meant earlier nights, colder weather, and a challenge in maintaining food. In October, spirits were supposed to freely roam because death was always only around the corner. This explains why Halloween has the eerie, haunting vibe we’ve come to enjoy.

Halloween got its start when the earliest settlers came to America. Many of the early English settlers carried numerous ghost and witchcraft beliefs with them. Many immigrants from Scotland and Ireland came to the United States in the 1800s and brought their Halloween customs with them. Other groups modified Halloween traditions to reflect their own cultural influences. African and Haitian immigrants contributed their voodoo beliefs about black cats, fire, and witchcraft, and German immigrants added a vibrant witchcraft mythology.

Why do we say trick or treat?

Trick or treating originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a celebration of the arrival of winter or the “dark half” of the year. The Irish would dress up and visit houses door to door singing songs to the dead on the nights before Samhain. In return, they got nuts, cash, or baked goods called soul cakes. The Christians then modified this custom and gave it the new name All Souls’ Day.

So now, as the spooky night draws near, you know about the old customs and traditions that have become part of our modern Halloween. Whatever traditions you like to celebrate probably have roots in other cultures from the past, but it’s also fun to make your own traditions.