Halloween, also known as Hallow’s Evening, is celebrated every year on 31st October. It begins the time in the liturgical year for remembering the dead including martyrs, saints (hallows) and the faithful departed. This is mainly observed by the Western Christians and many non-Christians around the world who attend church services and light candles on the graves of the dead. Some Christians historically refrained from meat on Hallow’s Evening, a tradition reflected in the eating of various vegetarian foods on this day like soul cakes, potato pancakes and apples.
Halloween: Ancient origin
Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The people who lived 2,000 years ago in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. These people (Celts) believed that on the night before new year, the line between the worlds of the dead and the living became blurred. Hence, on October 31, they believed that ghosts of the dead returned to the earth. They marked this day as the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of winter, a time often associated with human death. Celts thought that the presence of the parallel world spirits made it easier for Celtic priests in order to make predictions about the future by causing damage and damaging crops.
The Celtic priests, also known as the Druids, built huge sacred bonfires, where the people wearing dreadful costumes gathered to burn animals and crops as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. They would tell each other’s fortunes according go the costumes they wore consisting of animal skins and heads. Post celebration, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
The Roman Empire had conquered majority of Celtic territory by 43 A.D. They ruled the Celtic lands for four hundred years and during the course, the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain was combined with two festivals of Roman origin. First being Feralia, a day in late October was traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead by the Romans. The second day was for the Roman goddess of fruit and trees- a day to honor Pomona.
All-Hallows and All-Hallows Eve
On May 13, 609 A.D., Pantheon (a monument of ancient Rome) was dedicated in honor of all Christian martyrs by Pope Boniface IV. This festival of All Martyrs Day was later expanded by Pope Gregory III so as to include all martyrs and saints and changed the observance to November 1 instead of May 13.
In 1000 A.D., November 2 was said to be All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. This was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with dressing up in costumes as angels and devils, big bonfires and parades. The All Saints Day was also known as All-hallows and the night before it, the traditional night in the Celtic religion of Samhain, eventually began to be called Halloween (All-Hallows Eve).
Spread to America
The Catholic colonists in Maryland and Anglican colonists in the Southern United States recognized All Hallow’s Eve in their church calendars. Because of the beliefs and customs of different ethnic groups, a distinct sort of American version of Halloween began to emerge.
These included public events held to celebrate the harvest where people from neighborhoods would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes and dance and sing.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Halloween was not yet widely celebrated everywhere in the country. It was not until mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the second half of the nineteenth century that Halloween became a major holiday in North America.
By the first few years of 20th Century, it was being celebrated almost everywhere by people of all religious and racial backgrounds. Candles were placed on graves and families sometimes spent the whole night at the graveside.
In 1974, the yearly New York Halloween Parade was begun by puppeteer and also the mask maker Ralph Lee of Greenwich Village. It is the world’s largest Halloween parade attracting more than 60,000 costumed participants, 2 million spectators and 100 million of the worldwide television audience.
Hence, a new American tradition was introduced and has continued to grow.