The Origins of Halloween
The origins of Halloween are ancient and date back to Celtic culture.
For Celts, the new year didn’t start the 1st January, as today for us, but on the 1st November, when it was celebrated the most important feast of the year, a kind of New Year dedicated to “Samhain”, considered the Lord of Death and the Prince of Darkness.
Celts believed that on the eve of every new year (31st October), Samhain called to himself all the deads spirits. This celebration joined the fear for death and spirits to the joy for celebrating the end of the old year.
Through the Roman conquests, Christians and Celts came into contact. During the Christianization of Europe, the Church tried to eradicate the pagan cults.
With the aim to minimize the importance of the rituals related to the festival of Samhain, in 1835 the Church moved the feast of All Saints’ Day, dedicated to all the saints in heaven, from the 13rd May to the 1st November, and added a new holiday: the 2nd November, the Deads’ Day in memory of the souls of the passaway, who were celebrated by their loved ones, masquerated as saints, angels and devils and lighting bonfires.
In English, the All Saints Day is called All Hallows’ Day; the eve of All Saints Day, that is on the 31st October, is called All Hallow’ Eve. These words have become before Hallows’ Even, and from this term to Halloween it was a short step..
Despite the attempts of the Christian Church to eliminate the pagan rites of Samhain, Halloween remained a feast linked to the Mystery, the magic and witches and spirits world.
Between 1845 and 1850, around 700.000 Irish emigrated to America, bringing with them thei customs, including celebration Halloween.
Halloween, in the United States lost its religious meaning and rituals, and has become an excuse to organize party and to have fun.
The custom of dressing up on Halloween is probably derived from the Celtic custom of wearing animal skins and monster masks in rituals of Samhain and the ignition of the Sacred Fire, to scare the spirits and keep them away from the villages.
The custom of children to knock on the doors of houses shouting “Trick or Treat“, derives from the custom of the Celts to leave food and milk outside the door, hoping to ccurry favor the spirits and avoid them wrongdoings.
When the Irish came to America, they found that pumpkins were much more suitable than onions and turnips for the construction of the traditiornal Halloween lanterns. So, the traditional “Jack o’ lantern”, undisputed symbol of this feast, made by a pumpkin is only about 100 years.