Even though we celebrate Halloween in the United States today by putting up scary decorations, wearing costumes and eating candy, the holiday actually has a long history. The meaning of Halloween differs based on the culture you come from but some aspects of the celebration have been practiced for thousands of years. If you’ve ever wondered about Halloween origins, we’ve put together a Halloween history guide for you.
Halloween’s origins can be traced back to pagan cultures and the Celtics, who lived in what is now in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France. They believed that the spirits of the dead could return to the earth on Samhain or October 31 (the night before they celebrated their new year). To scare them away, during their harvest festivals they would build huge fires to make sacrifices to the gods. Celts would also wear costumes during these celebrations to avoid being recognized by ghosts.
Eventually, this area of the world was converted to Christianity. Because they didn’t want people to celebrate pagan holidays any longer, the Roman Catholic church wanted to replace this harvest festival with a church-sanctioned celebration. Taking place on the evening before the All Saints Day feast, All Hallows Eve became a day to celebrate and honor the dead. Celebrations were similar to Samhain, with costumes, parades, and bonfires.
When colonists starting migrating to America, they brought many of these Halloween history traditions with them. Neighbors would meet for gatherings to tell ghost stories, wear costumes, and make mischief. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the meaning of Halloween started to change. Children started visiting houses in their neighborhood wearing costumes to ask for money or food. To keep young people from vandalizing their property, homeowners would leave small treats in a bowl at the front door to keep their homes safe.
Eventually, communities starting hosting parties to help stop the vandalism that accompanied Halloween. Trick-or-treating became an inexpensive way for families to celebrate All Hallows Eve. Now, Halloween is a multi-million dollar holiday due to the sales of costumes, candy and elaborate decorations. Even though our celebrations may look different, many of the activities we do to celebrate Halloween are the same as our ancestors.
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