Halloween: The Origin of One of the World’s Oldest Holidays

Halloween is known these days as a kid-friendly holiday, where costumed children go around their neighborhood trick-or-treating. But have you ever wondered where and how these traditions started? (See more information at: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween.)

Halloween is considered to be one of the world’s oldest holidays, thought to have originated with the ancient Celtics. The Celtics designated Nov. 1 as the start of their New Year, and they believed that the night before the new year began was a night when ghosts returned to the Earth. In the 19th century, Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 as a day to honor saints and martyrs. This day became known as All Saints Day.

This leads us to the night before, Oct. 31. On this night, which became known as All Hallows Eve, and eventually evolved into Halloween, the boundaries that separated the realms between the living and the dead were though to be blurred. The ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was held by the Celtics to ward off ghosts. During Samhain, they would light bonfires and wear costumes.

As far as the tradition of wearing costumes, the Celtics and Europeans would walk around in costumed disguises on this evening, making believe that they themselves were also spirits, hoping to trick the ghosts into leaving them alone. Many households would also place bowls filled with food outside of their homes in hopes of appeasing the spirits and keeping them from entering their homes. Is this all sounding a little familiar?

What we know today as modern trick-or-treating dates back to English times. During the All Souls Day parade, poor people would beg for food during the festivities, promising in return to pray for the deceased family members of those who gave them the food. This practice became known as “going-a-souling.” Over time, children eventually began a form of this practice, visiting homes in their neighborhood to receive food, ale or money.

So there you have it! All of this history eventually evolved into what we know as our modern Halloween and all of the traditions of dressing in costume and collecting goodies from neighbors.

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