The Origins of Halloween

By Sophie Rieckmann

Every year, on the 31st October, children across the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) celebrate an event known as Halloween. You’ve probably excitedly shouted ‘trick or treat’ more times than you can recall, but do you know why this night of sugary festivities came about in the first place? No? Well, allow me to explain…

…It all began with the Celts. Yes, the Celts, and their festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in- Celtic, I know, right?!?), in which they would light bonfires and wear costumes. Why, you ask? To ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Traditionally, in the Celtic world, New Year (what we know to be 1st January ) would celebrate it on 1st November. However, their New Year’s Eve had a different name: All Hallow’s Eve.

Sound familiar? That’s because Halloween is derived from All Hallow’s Eve. However, the Celts, of course, did not hand out Dairy Milk or popping Candy to little cowboys and ghosts, they used All Hallow’s Eve to ward off the evil spirits before All Saint’s Day on 1st November (New Year’s Day 1st January) for good luck in the New Year.

But why all the dark costumes and allusions to death? Well, to the Celts, All Hallow’s Eve marked the end of the summer and harvest and the beginning of winter and darkness. It is also a time of year associated with death, as nature begins to wither away and the landscape turns bare and colourless. Supposedly, because the Celts were very superstitious people, on 31st October every year, the boundary between the living and the dead would dissolve and spirits would return to earth to haunt the living. Oddly enough, the Druid bonfires would then be used to gather locals to essentially have a party of fortune-telling (sorry about next year’s poor harvest, Ian).

By 43 A.D. (I know, AGES ago, right?) the Romans were also present in the Celtic world, and introduced their own version of Halloween, too. Ever wondered where the idea of apple-bobbing came from? The day of Feralia, celebrated in late October by the Romans, was when they celebrated the passing of the dead. The following day, the Romans honoured the goddess pow fruit and trees, Pomona, and the activity most popular on this day was…you guessed it…something to do with apples. Well, the Romans have now left, but their apple-fanatic ways have stuck, leaving us with apple-bobbing and toffee apples (not sure why we carve pumpkins though).

And to tie this in a neat little bow of a blog post, commercialism hit the USA and then the UK and we now dress up as inappropriately clothed nurses/Draculas/Hogwarts Students, eating a ridiculous amount of sugar (1/4 of annual US sales of candy are for Halloween), and paying little heed to the Celtic origins. Well, no one’s perfect…

Finally, a really poor Halloween Joke:

Q:Why did the ghost go into the bar?  A: For the boos!

Happy Halloween!

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