Halloween Series: The History of Halloween
Updated: Nov 3
Since Halloween is around the corner, we've decided to go ahead with a couple of posts on Halloween, starting with the history of Halloween. Hope that you like it!
Imagine it’s the last day of October, the month of harvest. You’re a 13 year old and it’s around 500 BCE. Some of you have just hopped on to the island of modern day Ireland, trying to settle in. Needless to mention, you’re a Celt. Your father was away with the other men, casting iron tools. Your mother needed you to check if the sheep had enough water to drink for the night. But the barn was two farms of wheat and barley across the hut, and it was hours past sunset. The harvest was ripe, and your only way to make it past the farms was to walk through the tall bushels of harvest. So you take your good old Jack O’ Lantern and ask your buddy wolfhound to accompany you. You’re dressed normally, no costume and nothing special. You cross the wheat farm across and there’s only the barley farm to go. But it’s not the journey that’s troubling you, it’s the eerie silence, the kind that makes you uncomfortably feel that you’re not alone. And let’s believe for a moment that you’re not. And then only your pet returns home that night.
The villagers have a meeting the next day and similar occurrences happened with the others as well. There was no other evidence of how the mishaps happened. Some rumours had it that in a few incidents, ghastly occurrences of strange beings chasing some villagers down were also witnessed. It didn’t take very long for everyone in the society to agree that this time of the year was marked by an increase in occult activities. It was believed that the barrier that separates the living world from the dead, disintegrates and hence some of creatures from the dead make it across to the living world and cause mishaps. As a workaround, everyone believed it was a good idea to dress up as what was then believed, as monsters to trick the non-living ones. This is the history of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.
As the medieval ages took over and the rise of Christianity embarked, this pagan festival was absorbed into the aegis of the modern religion. Originally practiced as a sign of solidarity to the dead by the Celts, but was celebrated as a day of remembrance by the Christians for the saints and hallows, both known and unknown (called the All Saints’ Day). The difference in the celebration of the two festivals was stark and quite evidently so. This was done by the clergies in order to put a cap on the spread of Paganism and their culture. However, the Christians also marked a day of remembrance for the dead which was known as the All Souls’ Day. This was celebrated by lighting candles in the dark as a tribute to the departed. The second festival shares resemblance to what the Celts celebrated. This was also the reason why both of these festivals were celebrated around the same time.
The festivals combined together in a way unimaginable, and resulted in kind of a hybrid. The way the celebration was derived from both the historically celebrated festivals lead to what we celebrate today as the modern day Halloween. Everyone dresses up as monsters and tries to recreate what the world in afterlife would look like in our world. Some even go a step ahead, and venture to places which are usually preserved as resting places in this world for the dead. Pumpkins are used as lanterns since they’re indicative of a good harvest for the season. Sometimes, they’re also carved and used as a lamp (read- Jack O’ Lantern). The name ‘Halloween’ is derived from the Christian festival itself- [‘Hallowe’ ‘en’ ~ Hallow- Saints and ‘en’- evening] which is the All Saints’ Day. Some places in the world also observe Halloween Parades with candle marches, similar to its root festival of the Christian origin.
And that is about it for the history of Halloween folks!