How Halloween Started
The origin of Halloween is dark and murky, as perhaps it should be. It may have started as a harvest festival in Western Europe, something like our Thanksgiving. That’s why some Halloween decorations include pumpkins and scarecrows. Over time, however, it became a festival of the dead, remembering those who had passed on, not only with sadness and fear, but also love and gratitude. People told stories about their lost friends and relatives, sharing accomplishments or funny or touching moments from their lives. It was a day for reflection, not a time of sorrow.
This Celtic harvest festival was called Samhain, and it began the dark half of the year. Bonfires were lit on the hills and in village squares. People carried hollowed out-turnips carved into faces and lit with a coal, similar to how children now enjoy lit pumpkins. Some came to believe the real world and the world of spirits drew close together on Samhain night.
Many dressed up as fairies or scarier spirit creatures to celebrate the magic. It was called guising, and the guisers often went from house to house playing tricks, just as children wear costumes and trick or treat now. Households gave out treats to stay on a guiser’s good side.
The history of Halloween
Samhain became Halloween as Christianity spread through Europe. It was eventually part of a Christian festival. All Hallows Day, which is now called All Saints Day, was held Nov. 1, and All Souls Day was held Nov. 2. All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, was celebrated after sundown the night before All Hallow’s. As with the older festival, people were supposed to remember the dead on this day.
But many people did not believe in celebrating Halloween. They thought it was wrong to honor what had begun as a pagan festival, that it encouraged children to be superstitious. In the U.S., the Plymouth Colony Puritans never celebrated Halloween, just as they never gave gifts on Christmas. And other groups agreed with them. So Halloween was not an American tradition for many years.
Halloween became popular in the U.S in the late 19th century, when thousands of Scottish and Irish people came to America. They brought Halloween with them. It spread quickly because it’s so much fun. Now the modern festival is a chance for everyone to dress up, eat candy and enjoy a walk in the dark.