Halloween is one of America’s most popular holidays with an estimated $9 billion being spent this year on costumes, candy, cards, and decorations. Let’s not forget the multi-billion movie industry that continues to annually add to their list of horror films both in sequels and new scares. While nearly 175 million Americans may delight in its frights, the origins of Halloween are not well known. This article delves into the mysterious beginnings of the eerie holiday.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity in the British Isles, the pagan Celts celebrated the beginning of the winter season by lighting bonfires. Known in Ireland as Samhain, this celebration took place on the night of October 31st and was believed to be the only night of the year when the inhabitants of the netherworld roamed the Earth.
In 609, the Catholic Church began celebrating a new holiday known as All Saint’s Day. This holiday was originally on the 13th of May. In 835, All Saint’s Day was officially moved to the 1st of November. Whether this was done to compete with Samhain or for some other reason is unknown, but thereafter, people would celebrate All Saint’s Eve or All Hallow’s Eve in the same manner as they had celebrated Samhain.
By the 1500s and possibly much earlier, Halloween celebrations included the wearing of costumes that were intended to either mimic or trick wandering spirits. This was known as “guising” and often included asking for food or playing pranks if no food was forthcoming. To light their way, guisers typically carried jack-o-lanterns made from turnips.
In the 19th century, immigration from Ireland and Scotland brought Halloween to the United States. Americans were already carving pumpkins during the fall harvest season, and these soon replaced the traditional turnip jack-o-lanterns that had been used in Europe.
Today, Halloween is celebrated in dozens of countries around the world. While centuries have passed, it seems that little in the ancient celebration has changed since it began at least 1,500 years ago. We dress in disguises, carve gourds, ask for food and play pranks on one another.
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