Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and a big part of that was knowing the history of Halloween. Thanks to an incredible movie called The Halloween Tree (it’s also a book!) I learned a lot about the history of Halloween and associated traditions. In honor of my favorite holiday, let’s dive into the history of Halloween.
Before Halloween was a holiday for children to dress up like monsters and gather candy, or a holiday for adults to wear skimpy and/or ironic costumes to party, Halloween was All Hallow’s Eve. All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve, comes the night before All Saints’ Day, a day to remember your dead.
But even before it was a Catholic holiday, Halloween was Samhain, a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest and remembering the dead. Because of the transitional nature of the season, going from summer into winter, celebrants believed that faeries, and the souls of the dead, could cross into the human world with ease. These faeries weren’t the Disney kind though. These faeries were malicious and mischievous, and in order to protect yourself and your family, you had to make offerings to them to keep them from, say, burning down your cottage.
People would light bonfires to keep away the evil spirits, and wear masks to disguise themselves within their ranks. Although let’s be real, the “ranks” were probably just other celebrants. (But isn’t it fun to imagine it was a bunch of faeries and demons and ghosts wandering around Ireland?) Trick or treating began as a threat, that if you didn’t offer these faeries and other evil spirits a treat, they would play a trick.
When Christianity swept into the region Christian priests and missionaries appropriated Halloween, among other holidays, to facilitate easier conversion of the locals. Ironically enough, later Christians rejected the holiday as pagan, from Puritans in the sixteenth century to modern fundamentalists who use “Hell Houses” to try to prevent sinning.
Because of the puritans and other sects who rejected Halloween, it faded to the background until waves of immigration from Ireland and Scotland brought the holiday back. By the early twentieth century Halloween had once again become a mainstream holiday. Complete with creepy children’s costumes ca. 1950s.
Of course, the United States isn’t the only place that celebrates October 31. Many places celebrate the Catholic holiday, and many others celebrate local traditions. The most famous is, of course, Día de Muertos – the Day of the Dead. Because I have never celebrated Día de Muertos and I don’t want to accidentally insult celebrants, let me direct you to some great resources to learn more.
This Halloween, I’ll be watching spooky movies, listening to Dracula on audiobook, playing in the leaves with my dog, and probably not handing out candy as there are like 2 children in my neighborhood. For more Halloween check out my All Hallows Reads recommendations, and the Legend of the Jack O’Lanterns.