Halloween is an annual celebration, celebrated each year on October 31, that has roots in age-old European traditions.
It originated with the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to venerate all saints; shortly, All Saints Day included some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening prior was known as All Hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween.
Halloween has developed into a day of activities such as trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns over time. Around the world, as days become shorter and nights get colder, people continue to bring in the season with festivities, costumes and delicious goodies.
Ancient Significance of Halloween
Halloween’s roots extend to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) (pronounced sow-in). On November 1, the Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year.
This day signified the end of summer and harvest and the start of the dark, bitter winter, a season often connected with human mortality. Celts thought that the line between the realms of the living and the dead became blurred on the night before the new year. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when the spirits of the dead were said to return to earth.
In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids or Celtic priests to make predictions. These prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction for people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world during the long, dark winter.
Druids built huge sacred bonfires to commemorate the event, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.
When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans customarily celebrated the departure of the dead. The second was a day to worship Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and plants.
The emblem of Pomona is the apple, and the inclusion of this festival into Samhain possibly explains the habit of “bobbing” for apples that are performed today on Halloween.