Halloween has evolved from its haunted history to be a major holiday so quickly it is downright spooky. It is the second biggest holiday in sales of decorations, trailing only Christmas, and one -fourth of the candy sold in the United States is for Halloween. With Americans this year expected to spend fully $6.9 billion on the holiday, Halloween has become big business. The average American will spend up to $75 to celebrate the holiday, which for many will include decorations, costumes, parties, and giving candy away to children tracking through their neighborhoods while trick-or-treating.
It may surprise people to find out that many of the traditions that people have long associated with Halloween are not nearly as old as popularly believed, although the roots of the holiday stretch back to ancient times. What eventually would become our modern Halloween is over 2,000 years old, and traces back to a couple of festivals – Sahmain and All Saints Day.
The Celtic festival of Sahmain came before the rise of Christianity. Literally translated from Gaelic, Samhain was the term for the end of the summer. Back then, Celts lived in Ireland, Britain, and northwestern France, and the festival was widely celebrated. The celebrants would collect their earnings from farming and bring their animals in for the cold season to come. However, this time of the changing of the seasons was also popularly believed to possess supernatural powers. It was held on November 1, although it was believed that the night before Sahmain was a night when the world of the living and the world of the dead mixed. People would leave food and wine outside of their homes in hopes of preventing ghosts from coming in. Also, when people ventured out on such nights, they would wear masks in order to resemble ghosts.
In the eighth century, Christians eliminated Sahmain and replaced it with All Saints Day, which was moved from mid-May to November by order of Pope Gregory III. This was done in an effort to eradicate the pagan roots of this popular autumn festival. Despite this, All Saints Day, which was also known as All Hallows Mass and Hallowmas, never was fully divorced from the former autumn festival that it was meant to replace, and the evening before, which fell on the last day of October, came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve. In time, people began a new tradition to scare away evil spirits; burning candles and carving turnips (the predecessor of the modern tradition of carving pumpkins).
The tradition of children and adults disguising themselves on All Hallow’s Eve to ward off evil spirits also continued. Many would beg for food or coins during the All Souls’ Day parade in England. Some families would give them pastries known as “soul cakes” and the beggars, in turn, were asked to pray for the deceased loved ones of the family giving the cakes. This may have been the origins of the modern “trick-or-treat” tradition that has become common on Halloween.
Ironically, despite Halloween having at least partial roots from a Christian tradition, the relationship between Halloween and Christians has often been complicated. October 31 happens to have been the day that Martin Luther essentially started the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, when he nailed his 95 Theses to a door. Most of the early Christians groups that came to America, who were greatly influenced by the Protestant Reformation and among whom were the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Quakers, and Baptists, rejected this holiday as pagan. Still, that ultimately did not prevent Halloween from traveling to American shores.
Halloween is a holiday that has changed greatly over the course of time. Late in the 19th century, many women believed they could find out the identity of their future husbands through various means. Some of these methods involved hazelnuts, mirrors, apples, and yarn. Sometimes, a ring would be buried in food, in hopes that the one who discovered it would be moved to find real love. Also, the winner of apple-bobbing competitions tended to be highly regarded as top prospects, as this was seen as a good sign. These traditions, however, generally faded over time.
The spooky holiday also used to have more in common with April Fool’s Day than with what most people today believe is typical of Halloween. Pranks were very common and quite popular, and some of the most popular pranks included throwing eggs at houses, opening up the gates of a farm, and making outhouses fall over. However, these tricks began to spiral out of control and become problematic, and so the focus began to emphasize the more innocent and less harmful traditions of passing out candy and dressing up in costumes.
By Charles Bordeau
Bustle.com: Why Do We Celebrate Halloween? 6 Facts About This Spooky Holiday’s History
The Newnan Times-Herald: The history of Halloween
The Lincolnshire Echo: What is Halloween and why do we celebrate it?
Business.com: $6.9 Billion in Consumer Spending this Halloween is Spooky
NRF: The long and Short of America’s Consumer Holidays
Image Courtesy of Nick Taylor’s Flickr page: – Creative Commons License