Millions across America celebrate Halloween every year, yet very few know why they are celebrating it.
See images from Halloweens past:
Despite its scary or devilish appearance, many Halloween traditions originated with the Christian religion. Just look at the etymology of the name! Maybe you're familiar with All Saints' Day, November 1st.
Well, October 31st is All Saints' Eve or All Hallows Eve (the words "saint" and "hallow" are pretty much synonymous.) People in Scotland, who use the word "even" instead of "eve," contracted the word into "e'en." Over time, "Hallows' E'en" turned into "Halloween."
However, for the real history of Halloween, we have to go thousands of years before the holiday got its name.
More than 2,000 years ago the Celtic people believed summer came to an end on October 31st, so in anticipation of the end of "the season of life" and the beginning of "the season of death," Celts would celebrate Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") or "Summer's End." They thought the veil between our world and the next was thinnest during Samhain and spirits and fairies could more easily cross over.
Families would leave food and wine on their doorstep to keep the ghosts at bay, and wore costumes when leaving the house to be mistaken for ghosts themselves. This is actually where we get Halloween costumes from. The Celts believed dressing up both honored the good spirits and helped avoid the bad ones.
Sometime in the 8th century, Pope Gregory IV changed the date originally set for All Saints' Day to the same day as Samhain, essentially merging the traditions connected to those holidays. One such practice was "souling," a custom where poor children went door-to-door collecting baked cakes in exchange for praying for their family's souls in Purgatory.
A similar tradition was "guising," where masked individuals would go door-to-door dancing and singing in exchange for food and wine. Sound familiar?
Halloween wasn't present in early America, specifically because of the Puritans rigid beliefs, but in the second half of the 19th century as the United States were flooded with Irish immigrants escaping the Potato Famine, the holiday and its traditions started to become more mainstream.
One of those traditions was carving faces into turnips and potatoes and leaving them on the doorstep to scare away evil spirits. When the Irish came to America they found pumpkins were perfect for their jack-o-lanterns.
By the 1920s and 30s, Halloween became a community affair with parties and parades and the coinage of "trick or treating." At first, it was much more about the tricks but in the 1950s it took on its present more family-friendly form.
Today, Halloween is a billion dollar industry; the second most profitable after Christmas. But where Christmas is an entire season, Halloween is just one night.
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