How and When Did Halloween Originate?

Both the young and young at heart look forward to the spooky holiday arising on October 31 each year. Dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating are both customs that are associated with Halloween, but where did Halloween originate from?

The name “Halloween,” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” which came the night before “All Hallows Day,” a Catholic celebration in honor of the saints. Many years before this holiday originated, the Celtic Irish celebrated October 31 as the end of the summer as well as the ‘New Year’ and called it “Samhain” (rhyming with “cow-en”).

The Celtic people believed that on this eve the souls of those who had died during the past year would return in search of living bodies to posses. If they did not posses a living body they would have no chance at the afterlife. None of the living wanted to be possessed by these spirits, so they would put out all the lights in their homes, dress up in ghoulish costumes, and reek havoc in their neighborhood to scare the spirits away.

The Roman Catholics adopted many of the Celt’s practices to their own. As spirit possession became less popular, many began to dress up as witches, goblins, and demons in a more ceremonial way.

Halloween came to America during the 1840’s as Irish immigrants fled Ireland’s potato famine, but contrary to popular belief, this is not where trick-or-treating originated. Trick-or-treating comes from the European custom of “souling.” The day after “All Hallows Day,” Christians would walk from town to town begging for “soul cakes,” which were pieces of bread baked with currents. The more “soul cakes” that were given to the beggars, the more prayers the beggars would promise to the donors. The Roman Catholics believed that the newly dead stayed in “limbo,” and prayers could help the souls get to heaven faster.

Although there is a plethora of literature surrounding the origins of Halloween, it did not begin as a time for “evil” or “devil worshiping,” as many think. It began with the Celtic Irish and Roman Catholics who were celebrating a new year and performing rituals for prayer.

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