By Hayden St. Mary
Once on a dark and stormy night… the tradition of scaring, sweet eating, and enjoying the occasional pumpkin spice latte emerged. We all love the tradition of trick or treating, whether it’s getting candy door to door, or sneaking a few treats for yourself from your kids’ stash. But the origins of Halloween are a mystery to many. So let’s dive into the captivating story of this bewitching holiday!
The origins of Halloween date back 2,000 years ago, when the Celts lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and France. The Celts celebrated the new year on November 1 because this day marked the end of the warm weather and harvesting, and the start of the cold dark winter to follow. This time of year was often associated with death, and the Celts believed that on October 31, the boundary that separates the living and the dead was broken. So on this day, they would celebrate a day called Samhain, by building huge sacred bonfires, to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.
The Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory by A.D. 43. During this time, two of the Roman festivals were joined with this day the Celts called Samhain. One was called Feralia, which was a day in late October when the Romans celebrated the passing of the dead. The second holiday was a day they honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
Many aspects of Halloween make it the fun day it is, but many of the traditions are pretty random when you think about it. Why do the colors black and orange symbolize Halloween? Why do we dress up in costumes?
By far the most popular Halloween tradition is trick or treating, but there is a lot of controversy as to how this became a tradition in the first place. The first theory proposes that during Samhain, the Celts may have left food out to satisfy the spirits wandering the Earth at night. The second theory suggests that during the Middle Ages, poor children and adults would go door to door and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for food. The third theory speculates that the tradition may have come from a German-American tradition called “belsnickeling.” With this tradition, children would dress in costumes and visit their neighbors to see if they are able to guess their identities. The children would then be rewarded with food or other treats if no one could properly identify them.
Continuing on the topic of costumes, it is believed that the tradition of dressing up was created by the Celts to avoid evil spirits from terrorizing them because they believed they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and be left alone. The candy that we collect door to door on Halloween night didn’t always used to be candy. Instead, people used to give out things like fruit, nuts, coins and toys. But when trick-or-treating rose in popularity in the 1950s, candy companies began to market small, individually wrapped candies. People began to prefer this out of convenience, and in the 1970s, when parents started fearing anything unwrapped, they took over almost completely.
The colors black and orange have long symbolized Halloween, but why? The traditional Halloween colors trace back to Samhain. The Celts had black symbolizing the color of the death of summer, while the orange symbolized the autumn harvest season.
Carving pumpkins has to be my favorite Halloween tradition by far. It’s a way to show off your creativity and interests in a fun and sometimes messy way! Learning how the tradition came around might be a bit more fun than scooping out slimy cold pumpkin guts, though. The tradition of carving pumpkins originated in Ireland, where they used turnips instead of pumpkins. According to a popular legend, there was a man named Stingy Jack who outwitted the Devil and struck a deal with him to avoid damnation in hell. However, upon his demise, Jack discovered that heaven did not deem his soul worthy of entry either. As a result, he was stuck wandering the earth eternally as a ghost. The devil, in an act of begrudging assistance, presented Jack with a burning lump of coal placed inside a carved-out turnip to serve as a guiding light. This story eventually started the tradition of carving faces into turnips as a way to ward off evil spirits.
So there you have it. We’ve taken a deep dive into the history of Halloween. From its ancient Celtic roots to the modern-day celebrations, we’ve uncovered the origins and evolution of this spooktacular holiday. Whether you’re wearing a scary costume, carving pumpkins or indulging in sweet treats, remember the traditions that have shaped Halloween into the beloved holiday it is today. So go out and enjoy the magic of Halloween tomorrow night, and may it be filled with frightful fun!
Hayden St. Mary is a student at Spring Grove High School. She is one of 13 area students participationg in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 25th year.