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Spooky season: the history of Halloween

Art by Joleen Cardoza

As October passes by and the month fades to November, what better way to honor the passing of spooky season than to honor the history of Halloween! Halloween is one of the most festive and fun holidays to celebrate, and the history behind it is very fascinating. According to historians, the most plausible origin of Halloween dates back to a Celtic-Pagan festival.

Halloween originated as a Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, celebrated from October 31 to November 1. However, many see this festival as more of a communal meeting at the end of the harvest year rather than a festival. This festival also marked a time when Celts believed the barrier between worlds was weaker and thus inhabitants of the spirit world could interact with humans. It was also associated with the winter months. Celebrations would include lighting fires, sacrificing cattle, and dressing as animals and mythical beings so fairies wouldn’t want to kidnap humans. Although, according to some historians, Samhain was more about the changing of seasons and rebirth than death and evil like most seem to think.

During the middle ages, the traditional practices mentioned above started to increase, and more Samhain fires started to appear to scare off witches and fairies. Celebrational suppers and carved turnips called Jack-o-lanterns started to grow in popularity. Children and adults would also contact and play with the dead, mostly their ancestors, invite them in for food, and adults would sometimes communicate with them during the night. Eventually, the traditional practice of Samhain would start to be taken over by other cultures such as Romans and Christians. As the Roman empire started to conquer Celtic land, two Roman festivals would be incorporated with the original Samhain festival. One festival would be Ferilia, celebrating the passing of the dead. The second would be honoring Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit. It is believed that is where the tradition of apple bobbing originated. Another example of this would be when Pope Boniface moved celebrations to May 13th and specified the day as “a day celebrating saints and martyrs.” This would eventually be changed to November 1 and would be declared “All Saints Day.”

As Irish immigrants began to come to America, the popularity of Halloween started to increase. Mumming was an Irish tradition in which people would put on costumes and go door to door singing for the dead, and cake would be given as payment. This was practiced in the days before and leading up to October 31st.

Halloween traditions in America have drastically changed over the years from the original Pagan roots. Americans have changed carving turnips to carving pumpkins, dressing up for kidnapping prevention to dressing up for fun. Mumming was changed to trick or treating. In addition, fall-themed drinks, costume contests, and parties are very popular during this time.

How Other Countries Celebrate Halloween

By now it should be pretty obvious how modern Halloween traditions came to be and how they came to America. That being said, American Halloween traditions differ from other countries. In Ireland and Scotland, fortune-telling, Samhain/Samhuinn parades, and traditional dishes are common practices. Although Halloween in America is generally seen as a childish thing, in Japan that is not true at all! Instead of most people wasting time on trick or treating, flash mobs, parties, and cosplay contests are a very popular sight. Parties line the streets and videos can be seen on many social media platforms. In Mexico, Día de las Brujas is mostly celebrated as a children's holiday and is often overshadowed by Día de Los Muertos, a celebration of ancestors who have passed. Celebrations include parades, praying to the dead, dancing, and fireworks. Ofrendas are often set up and items like marigolds, sugar skulls, and photos of the deceased can be put on the altar. Many countries gain influence from trick-or-treating and it has become more popular in countries like Portugal over the years.

Because Spooky Season has officially passed, many of these practices are likely not to be seen at this time. However, next year we can expect these practices and holidays to come back with a bang! Officials say that by late 2022 the Covid-19 virus will hopefully be settled down in America and thus, a sense of normalcy will return. Interactive holidays like Halloween will hopefully be celebrated all throughout the country and the streets will be lined with Trick-or-Treaters as festivities commence!


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