Halloween is my favourite time of the year, pumpkins, ghosts and all things spooky! But how did it all start?
The Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on 1st November. The day marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, which was often a time of death, as people struggled to make it through the harsh winters as they were entirely dependent of the volatile natural world. The Celts believed that the night before on 31st October that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They celebrated Samhain on this day, and it was thought that the presence of the spirits made it easier for the Druids to make predictions about the future.
Large bonfires would be lit in each village to ward off any evil spirits which may have also returned to earth.
When the Romans came to Britain, may of the Celtic tribes were pushed to the northern and western parts of Britain. A new religion followed in the decades after the Romans; Christianity. The Christians brought over some of their festivals including ‘All Hallows’ Day’, also known as ‘All Saints Day’, which was a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.
All Hallows’ Day was originally celebrated on 13th May, but in the 8th century, Pope Gregory moved the date to 1st November. It is thought that by doing this, he was trying to replace the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a similar but church approved celebration.
Therefore the night of Samhain became known as ‘All-hallows-even’ then ‘Hallow Eve’ and then of course ‘Halloween.
The tradition of trick-or-treating dates back to early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During these festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called ‘soul cakes’ in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. It was referred to as ‘going a-souling’ and was eventually picked up by children who would get dressed up and visit the houses in their neighbourhood and be given food and money.
Other traditions such as carving faces into hollowed-out vegetables were practised to ward off any evil spirits. Originally the vegetables used would be the likes of swedes and turnips. It was only when Halloween reached American that the modern use of pumpkins was used.