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The History of Halloween

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By Samantha Snead

 

Every year, you watch Twitches and Hocus Pocus to get in the Halloween spirit. These are great movies, but have you ever wondered what the real story behind Halloween is?

It all goes back to about 2,000 years ago, when the Celts celebrated their new year, which began on November 1. This celebratory festival was known as Samhain and signified the changing of seasons. The night before the new-year began, it was believed that ghosts visited earth. The Celts made sacrifices at bonfires built by Druids and dressed in animal skins. They wore these costumes so that the returning ghosts wouldn’t recognize them, and placed food and gifts outside their doors so ghosts wouldn’t enter their homes.

After the Roman Empire conquered most of the Celts’ territory, their cultural celebrations started to blend together. The Roman festivals of Feralia, which marked the passing of the dead into the afterlife, and the ceremony honoring the Roman goddess of fruit, merged with the Celts’ tradition; this is suspected to be the origin of bobbing for apples. When Catholicism spread to Celtic territories, November 2 became All Souls’ Day, which was essentially just a church-approved version of Samhain. The night before All Souls’ Day became known as All-Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween.

When Halloween reached America, people celebrated it by telling fortunes and stories about their dead relatives. This evolved into more modern activities such as telling ghost stories and general mischief-making. An influx of immigrants in the late 19th century led Americans to begin dressing up in costumes, and they began trick-or-treating for the first time after wealthy families started giving food to the poor in exchange for prayers for the family’s deceased. Around this time, the religious and superstitious side of Halloween was gradually replaced by secular community meetings. Over the next 50 years, the focus shifted from large community gatherings to parties thrown by individual families as more and more people began to celebrate Halloween, and trick-or-treating was taken up by children who started to go door-to-door asking for food and money from their neighbors.

Today, Halloween is one of America’s largest commercial holidays. It is estimated that 70 percent of Americans celebrate Halloween, and that spending for candy, costumes, and pet costumes will exceed $7 billion in 2014. What began as a Celtic new year celebration evolved into the Halloween we celebrate today, and the excitement surrounding the holiday only seems to increase every year.​