Halloween takes its origin from the Pagan Holiday, Samhain, where Celts would dress up in costumes and dance around a large bonfire giving for several reasons. Thanking their Gods was one of them. Today the holiday is more about candy and pranks, though the tradition of dressing up has continued.
The holiday was known as Samhain to the Celtic. It marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. They believed when the season was shifting into winter the dead would pass into the world of the living.
This was a holiday of celebration for the Celtic people. They would burn crops and sacrifice animals as a way of thanking the Gods for the previous years bounty. The Celtic people believed the dead were released from the land so wearing the costumes was a way of protecting the identity of the living.
The costumes represented the release of the dead souls back into the physical world. After the dead were among the living, they had the ability to embody a creature, whether it be human or animal. The dead souls were not always accepting of jumping into a new body. The Celts believed the souls were wander around searching for the person that caused them death and would haunt them. This was another reason they wore costumes.
Through the years these original beliefs has been watered down or have completely fallen out of favor with the public. The meanings behind the traditions have also been forgotten. The traditions that are generally accepted in the mainstream, dressing up, going door to door for candy, they are a mixture between the Celtics, Roman and Catholic traditions.
As the Romans had their own idea of Halloween. They celebrated the same day as the Celts and the reasons were close in comparison. They believe the October 31 was the end of harvest and November was the start of winter. They did not dress up in costumes and dance around giant bonfires but they offer up thanks to the Gods for bounties.
Early Catholic’s called October 31 All Hollows Eve, or holy evening. The day was to remember all those who have died, whether they be saints or just a common man. In England in the 1800’s when much of the country was poor they church encouraged the wealthy to feed the poor who would come door to door begging for food. The wealthy would often give the beggars cake, bread or ale. In return the poor people of England would say a pray for the rich folks deceased loved ones. There is reasonable speculation whether costumes were worn during this time on Halloween.
Other Halloween traditions that have been carried down are bobbing for apples, which came from the Romans. The Celts would carved out pumpkins and put candles or torches inside to light up pathways during the night. There is a legend in Ireland about a man who was forced to roam the earth with only a carved out pumpkin with a light in it.
Today, Halloween is about dressing up in costumes and collecting candy for reasons that are more simple. It is centered on family and community. Halloween has gone through many stages through the years, with each culture adding their own spin for reasons that fit, costumes continue to be related closely to the holiday.
By Paul Sears
Photo by MarkScottAustinTX – Flickr License