Halloween Origins and Practicesby Ron Sussberg on 09/23/19
This pagan festival was celebrated by the Celts to honor the end of summer and usher in the darkest part of the year. It was believed that, at Samhain, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was at its thinnest, allowing for communication with the deceased. The rituals and festivities that took place reflected this belief. Participants would make offerings to please their ancestors who might return, and they also would disguise themselves to avoid being kidnapped by more malicious creatures, most often the Sidhe or other fae, who could more easily cross into the world of the living at that time of year.
Feralia & Pomona
When the Romans conquered Celtic territory, they began to integrate their own traditions into Celtic practices. The Roman festival Feralia was designed to honor the dead, much like Samhain, and the Romans also celebrated their goddess Pomona who was associated with fruit and trees around the same time. It is from this celebration that the tradition of bobbing for apples might originate. Celebrating the dead in some form or another at this time of year has been relatively consistent, even across cultures, as the shift from summer to autumn is commonly associated with change and the approach of darker months.
All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day
Catholic leaders attempted to adapt the festival into something more conducive with their beliefs. In the fifth century, the celebration was shifted to springtime and was slated to celebrate saints and martyrs. However, in the ninth century, Pope Gregory returned the celebration to its original season, establishing All Saints’ Day on November 1 to honor deceased saints and All Souls’ Day on November 2 to honor all deceased believers of the Christian faith. Eventually, the day before these festivities, October 31, became known as All Hallow’s Eve. Though the practices and beliefs shifted under ruling parties, the practice of honoring the dead in autumn ultimately remained.
As a melting pot of many European cultures, the practices associated with Halloween in America are an amalgamation of cultural practices. The tradition of Trick-or-Treating, for example, is believed to be a blend of Irish, Scottish, and English customs. In some early practices, some groups would dress in costumes and visit houses to sing to the dead; they earned cake as payment. The nature of playing tricks or pranks also originated from ancient practices, though these tricks were commonly played by fae creatures. In America, Halloween was a community-oriented holiday, but in an effort to limit harmful pranks and vandalism, marketing efforts shifted to children alone.