Monday, October 30, 2017

How Halloween Came To Be *Cue Spooky Music*

Halloween is the spookiest and creepiest of all our traditional holidays, but what are the origins of this odd celebration symbolized by ghosts, ghouls, bats and jack o' lanterns? I did a little digging and here's what I found.

If you really *do* want to cue the spooky sound effects just to set the mood while you read, I have just the thing...

The Ancient History of Halloween

About 2000 Years Ago
The ancient Celtics celebrated the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) in the areas now called Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. It was a celebration of their New Year, which began on November 1st. The day heralded the harvest and the end of the warm days of summer to usher in the cold and dark of winter. Times were hard, and winter was often associated with death. The Celts believed on this night that bridged the new year, the barriers became blurred between the worlds of the living and the dead and ghosts would return to walk the Earth to cause mischief and damage crops.

But the Celts also believed the presence of spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to see into the future. These prophecies became a great source of comfort during their long, cold winters. During Samhain, the Druids built great bonfires and the people gathered around wearing costumes of animal heads and skins to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Once the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the remains of the bonfire which they believed would help protect them through the coming winter.

43 A.D.
By this date, the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic territory and would continue to rule for approximately four hundred years. During that time, two festivals of Roman origin became combined with the traditional Celtic Samhain. The first of these was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans honored the dead. The second was to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona, whose symbol was the apple. Two thousand years later that tradition is present in “bobbing” for apples that is still practiced today at Halloween parties.

May 13, 609 A.D.
Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to honor Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of "All Martyrs Day" was born in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.

9th Century, A.D.
When the influence of Christianity spread into Celtic lands, it gradually combined with the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead, possibly an attempt to replace the ancient Celtic festival. All Souls Day was similar to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and people wearing costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse which meant All Saints’ Day) and they began to call the night before All-Hallows Eve, and, eventually, Halloween. On Halloween, people feared that ghosts came back to walk the earth, and they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by the spirits, they wore masks so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. People would also place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from entering their homes.

Colonial America
Though the celebration of Halloween was frowned on in colonial New England because of the strict Protestant beliefs, Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. Soon European ethnic customs began to blend with Native American traditions, and a colonial version of Halloween began to take shape. The first celebrations included public "play parties" to celebrate the harvest, where stories of the dead would be shared and fortunes were told, along with singing and dancing. The telling of ghost stories was also a popular activity.

19th Century
Autumn festivals became common, but Halloween was still not yet celebrated everywhere in the young country. In the second half of the nineteenth century, a flood of new immigrants, especially those from Ireland due to the Irish Potato Famine, brought with them popular celebrations of Halloween. Trick-or-treating had roots in Irish and English tradition, where people dressed up in costumes to go house-to-house asking for food or money. The Irish also brought another tradition. In their homeland, they had hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets to place a light inside as a means to ward off evil spirits and keep "Stingy Jack" away. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns, which later led to the custom of carving pumpkins.

Late 1800s
Halloween began to be a holiday that was more community-centered with neighborhood get-togethers rather than focusing on spirits, pranks and bonfires. By the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the usual way to celebrate. Games, foods of the season and festive costumes were a big part of the celebration. Parents were urged to remove anything “frightening” or “grotesque” from the Halloween celebration. Halloween soon lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones.

1920s - 1930s
Halloween evolved into a community-centered holiday, with parades and parties. Unfortunately, vandalism also began to plague the holiday. Trick-or-treating became an effective way for a community to share the Halloween celebration and families could prevent "tricks" by providing the neighborhood youth with treats. It probably had roots in All Souls’ Day parades in England, where poor citizens would beg for food and be given pastries called “soul cakes” in return for a promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. This was called “going a-souling.” Whatever influenced its origins, the new tradition of trick-or-treating continued to grow in popularity.

By the mid-century, leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday mainly for the young of age. The high numbers of young children due to the post-war "baby boom" made the celebrations popular, and they were often held in classrooms or homes.

Americans spend an estimated $6 billion each year on the Halloween celebrations, candy, costumes and decorations, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.

I hope you've enjoyed this quick tour of Halloween History down through the centuries. Here's a musical blast from the past that celebrates a slightly more modern version of all things Halloweenish.


And because it's almost Halloween, I have a very special TREAT for you!

The Science Fiction Romance One site has organized a SFR Halloween Readers Appreciation Giveaway drawing for your choice of a Kindle Fire or Paper White PLUS over a dozen SFR titles! It's easy to enter via Rafflecopter. Just click the link above to see the sponsoring authors and books, then click the link at the bottom of the page to go to the entry form. Happy Halloween from Science Fiction Romance One!

If you celebrate October 31st,                         
         then however you observe it,                  
                   have a frightfully fun Halloween! 

...and have a great week!


  1. Enjoyed the Halloween history lesson Laurie. And the spooky sounds!

    1. Thanks, Riley. :) Researching blogs is always an education...and I never know when this info might come in handy for a book!

  2. Halloween has only just started to become a bigger holiday here as UK retailers have spotted the opportunity for cashing in like the US ones do. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a Halloween humbug - I won't answer the door because I've spent all year telling my kids to stay away from strangers and not accept sweets so it goes against my philosophy somewhat. Hubs always has sweets in just in case so he gets the job of answering to the trick or treaters! But also because I mark the pagan holidays so take it a tad more seriously as All Hallows' Eve.


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