History of Halloween

Monica Rosenberg, Staff Writer

A quarter of all the candy sold in the United States annually is purchased for Halloween alone, but this holiday has not always been about trick-or-treating and ghost stories. It comes from a much older tradition.

The origin of Halloween dates back to the ancient times, roughly 2,000 years ago in the region now known as Ireland. The area was occupied by the Celts, a group which celebrated their new year on November 1. This new year celebration symbolized the end of the summer and the rich harvest that it brought.

Consequently, the Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the line between the living and the dead was slightly distorted. On the night of October 31 the inhabitants would celebrate, believing the ghosts of the dead were returning to Earth. The Celts felt this was a time where priests could make better predictions of the future to come.

As a special celebration, individuals built gigantic bonfires which were considered sacred, as crops and animals could be burned and sacrificed to the Celtic gods. Costumes and masks made of animal heads and skins were appropriate and many would participate in dressing up.

The origin of the holiday’s title came about somewhat later, as it came from the Scottish invention of the title All-Hallows-Even (another word for evening). This night was the forerunner for All Hallows Day and the word came into common usage in the mid 1500s.
Today, Halloween is regarded rather differently. It is not exactly okay to wear animal skin and heads on one’s body. However, people do come up with other unique ideas, enjoying diverse activities such as pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples and trick-or-treating.

The carving of the jack-o-lantern is inspired by an Irish folk tale about a boy named Jack, who messed with the devil and got banned from both heaven and hell. After this, the devil took pity on Jack and offered him an ember inside of a hallowed turnip to light his way, as he was forced to stay eternally on Earth. Eventually, pumpkin became the tradition instead of turnips, because they were much more available and larger in size.

In the same respect trick-or-treating began long ago, originating from a simple practice in the medieval period. It was known as Souling, a time during which poor people would go from door to door receiving food in return for prayers for the dead.

Halloween was not always popular in the United States. The holiday was geared mostly to Catholics, so most Protestants ignored the tradition. Now, Halloween and other “haunting” attractions rake in over $300 million a year. So, this year while you’re celebrating Halloween in whichever way you choose, take a moment and think about the Celts and possibly give yourself an excuse for eating all of that candy.

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