The old saying “you learn something new every day” is one that came across my mind while writing this. By now most us have picked out our children’s costumes (or ours, for that matter, while contemplating the next Halloween party to attend), have finished decorating the house, or have already stockpiled endless amounts of candy for the soon to be trick-or-treaters in a few weeks.
The timeless question of “why?” comes to mind when asking just why do we do all this stuff when it comes to Halloween. The history of Halloween is quite interesting and dates to the ancient Celtic days over 2,000 years ago and has its roots in age-old European traditions. Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Back in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as All Saints Day to honor them. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve which later became Halloween.
The Celtics lived in the area that is now Ireland, the U.K., and Northern France and they celebrated their new year on November 1st. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest as well as the beginning of t
he long, cold and dark winter, a time of year that was most often associated with human death. This is where the history gets interesting as the Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31st, they celebrated the before mentioned Samhain when they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
It wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century when America was flooded with new immigrants that helped to popularize Halloween in our country. Many of the millions of new immigrants were the Irish as they were fleeing the potato famine. Trick-or-treating began in our country when borrowing from Irish and English traditions we began to dress up in costumes going from house to house and asking for food or money. Young women believed that on Halloween they could discover the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple pairings, or mirrors!
A fun fact to know is that one quarter of all the candy sold annually in the United States is purchased for Halloween. So, you see, it’s true that you do learn something new every day!