History of Halloween

posted Nov 2, 2014, 6:59 AM by barryjohnson@isriau.org
We ran out of time for this on Friday but I thought it might still be interesting for families to discuss. 

Did you know Halloween began as a New Year’s Celebration? Yes, many years ago in Northern Europe the Celtic people celebrated their New Year with the festival of Samhain (SAH-win). According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter for most of Europe. Since they were farming people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle where daylight hours were minimal and nights grew long. 

When Christian missionaries influenced the Celts they decided to let the old holidays remain but to insert important Christian ideals. “Samhain” became a celebration to remember people who had died and gone to heaven and All Saints Day was born. “Halloween” or the Evening (‘een) before the Feast of All Holy Souls (all hallows) was born. People used this time to honor their beloved relatives and also to think about the importance of appreciating and making the most of their own limited time on earth. In the olden days it was an opportunity for “alms giving.” People would bake special treats (“soul cakes”) and go from house to house sharing food and remembering friends and relatives who had passed away. The poor could go to any door and be given food and drink. Those who had the resources but who refused to give were subject ot ridicule and pranks. This is how the tradition of “trick or treating” started. 

Over the years, the holiday has become very commercialized and has been changed to be scary, funny or, in some cases rather disturbing. So, whether you choose to celebrate Halloween, or not, it is important to know how it began. It is, of course, up to us to decide how we pass this cultural tradition along to the next generations.


Photo Credit: atomicshark via Compfight cc