What are the origins of Halloween?


Spooky halloween night with pumpkins. Poster.

What are the origins of Halloween?

So many new trends, fashions, commercial trends and social cults seem to be crossing the pond from the US. If it makes it big in America, then it is likely it won’t be long before we are mimicking it here in the UK. These trends are a bit like Marmite (which, by the way, we gave to the Americans), you either love them or hate them.

One of the latest crazes is Halloween. We have always done it here in the UK but not on the scale the Americans do it – it seems now that it has been given the Hollywood makeover. Like the US it is becoming as important as other religious dates in the year. Shops are filled to brimming with Halloween costumes, pumpkins and paraphernalia weeks before the 31st October. Going out on the night is becoming the thing to do for kids – and zombies, the walking dead and other grotesques peculiar to US culture, are seeping into games, books and films.

But where does Halloween come from?

Halloween in the US has become one of the most popular holidays of the year. This is no doubt this is partly because, as a capitalist country, the retail economy enjoys a huge boost. But the roots of Halloween go back to Europe over 2000 years ago.

Researchers have found evidence of Celtic rituals who occupied the UK, Northern France and Ireland. It was a time when they honoured the dead and at that time this festival was called “Samhain”. The Romans continued the ceremonies under their own Latin term “Feralia”. Both these festivals were celebrated at the end of October.

Christianity repressed pagan rituals

As Christianity took hold, the church did not want people celebrating pagan festivals and so in 600 AD, Pope Boniface 1V created All Hallows day to be celebrated on November 1st. It was hoped this would overshadow any pagan inclinations. Hallows means respect, revere and deify and the day itself was a time to remember saints and martyrs.

The day before All Hallows came to be known “All Hallow Evening” (the evening before we revere). Over time it became shortened to “All Hallows Even” and then to “Hallowe’en” and finally “Halloween”.

Dress up and trick or treat

The idea of dressing up in ghostly and demonic costumes also goes back to pagan beliefs. – especially at the time of new year. People believed that by dressing up as demons they could fool them into believing they were part of the living dead too and so were safe.

Trick or treating had its roots in the middle ages when children and poor adults would dress up and go around asking for money in return for prayers and religious songs. At this time, of course it was not called trick or treating – they were known as “soulers”.

The first time the term “trick or treat” was recorded was in 1927 when a Canadian newspaper described a new trend of children knocking on people’s houses and demanding edible plunder or a torment.

The rest as they say is history. As for me on October 31st, just like 50% of the population of the UK, I will be turning of the lights, and pretending I am not in. Not that I believe in ghosts of course…

source: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist


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