Today, Halloween is a day for activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats. Halloween has been around for years and many celebrate it but don’t know its origins.
Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, that lived 2,000 years ago celebrated their new year on November 1st. This day was to mark the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of a cold winter. Celts believed that the night before the new year the worlds of the living and the dead became merged and so on this night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain. It was also believed that during this time it was easy to predict the future. Sacred bonfires to burn crops and animals were created to celebrate the event and costumes were also worn.
It is believed that costumes or masks were worn because people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks or costumes when they left after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for other spirits.
Perhaps the most popular part of Halloween is trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treating probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During these parades, poor people would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. Giving out soul cakes was encouraged as a way to replace leaving food and wine out for roaming spirits. This practice, which was called “going a-souling,” was taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food and money.
Another popular part of Halloween are carving jack-o’-lanterns. This practice originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes were used instead. The name, jack-o’-lantern, came from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America and it became an important part of Halloween tradition.