Halloween. Hallowe’en. All Hallow’s Eve. All Saints’ Eve. Allhalloween, These are all names for America’s second most-celebrated holiday, and one that isn’t even official, profiting an estimated 6 billion annually (though that figure is supposed to be topped for 2016 by an extra 2 billion dollars)!
Hallowmas, known also as Hallowtide, Allhallowtide, and Allsaintside, begins on 31 October and goes through 2 November every year. All Saints or All Hallows’ Day is 1 November, and All Souls’ Day is 2 November. Mexico’s Dia de Muertos (also called Dia de Los Muertos) starts on 1 November and continues through 2 November and is observed by many Americans of Latin descent. (A post about the Day of The Dead is imminent.)
The origins of today’s Halloween date back to the ancient festival of Samhain (not pronounced sam hane as Donald Pleasance did in the film Halloween, but sow-in), a Celtic day of celebration that brought in the new year, which was 1 November. This was a day to commemorate summer’s end, the Fall harvest, and the start of winter, a dark and very cold time of year just as it is for most of us today, only 2,000 years ago it was the roughest season, when death lurked around every corner. The Celts held the belief that the boundary between our world of the living and that of those who had died were obscured. The spirits of the dead were thought to return to earth on the night of 31 October, causing all sorts of mayhem such as spoiled crops; therefore, the Druids created bonfires where animals and crops were sacrificed to appease the Celtic deities.
When the Romans took over, they introduced 2 Roman festivals that were combined with the Celtic Samhain: Feralia, when the Romans observed the passing of the dead (late October) and Pomona, which was a day set aside to honor their Goddess of fruitful abundance, her symbol being the apple. According to the site History.com, this may explain the tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween (which for me was always highly unsanitary and is the reason I only tried it once, as a 12 year old).
When it came to Colonial America – particularly New England – celebration of Halloween was not widespread and we know that was because of the puritanical, Cotton Matherish belief systems that were in place then. However, the Southern colonies were more apt to practice Halloween traditions. In time, due to the customs of the Native Americans and all the various ethnic groups that came from Europe, a version of Halloween that was markedly American came about. The reciting of ghost stories, public ‘play parties’ singing, dancing, and the telling of fortunes were included though not celebrated all over the country (only in certain regions).
As more immigrants entered the United States, Halloween was influenced even more. From the Irish and British tradition of going door-to-door in costumes asking for money or food we got the practice of ‘trick of treating’. Back in the Old Country, it was thought that if one wore a mask when venturing out on Halloween, the dead walking the earth would mistake one for their own, and to keep spirits away from the home, people placed bowls of food outside their doors which would placate the ghosts and keep them at bay. This is how the wearing of costumes came about.
One tradition that seems to have been forgotten is the art of divination, implemented back in the days of yore by young women who wished to know who their future husbands would be. For more on Halloween divination rituals, visit this site. You will be very surprised at what people used to do on this darksome day of the year!