The origins of Halloween are said to date back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pron. Sowin). Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in Ireland, the UK and Northern France, celebrated their new year on 1st November. This marked the end of the harvest and the summer and was the start of winter time which was often associated with human death.
The Celts believed on New Year’s Eve, 31st October, the veil between the world of the living and the dead became blurred. On this night they celebrated Samhain when they believed the dead returned to the earth and caused trouble and damaged crops. The Celts believed that when the spirits of the dead were walking the earth it was easier for the Druids to make predictions about the future. These prophesies were important to comfort and guide the community during the dark winters.
Marking the event, the Druids would build sacred bonfires and the community would gather and burn sacrificial animals and crops to the Celtic Gods. The Celts would wear costumes which were often made from the heads and skins of animals and they would tell each other their fortunes.
Later in history, after the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory, two of the Roman festivals eventually merged with the Celtic Samhain festival. Feralia, a day in October when Romans celebrated the passing of the dead and Pomona, a day to honour the Goddess of fruit and trees. It’s quite likely that the symbol of Pomona, an apple, explains the tradition of bobbing for apples.
The Parthenon in Rome was dedicated in the honour of all Christian martyrs which established All Martyrs Day in the western church. The festival was later expanded to include all saints and the date was moved from May to 1st November. History later saw the Christian church make 2nd November a day to honour all the dead, All Souls Day. It’s thought this was the churches attempt to replace the Celtic festival with a church approved holiday.
All Souls Day was still celebrated with bonfires and parades with dressing up as saints, angels and devils. All Saints Day was also called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas and the night before became known as All-Hallows Eve which eventually became Halloween.
Halloween is a time of superstition and celebration which straddles the line between autumn and winter, abundance and frugality and between life and death. It has evolved into a child friendly tradition full of fun and activities such as Trick or Treating, dressing up and lots of sweet treats.