Ever wondered how Halloween started? Why it’s centred around ghost, ghouls and haunted houses?
The practices of Halloween mostly come from Celtic paganism in the early Britain, and their feast of Samhain, the new year. They believed it was the time when ghosts and spirits came out to haunt, and the Celts would appease the spirits by giving them treats. The feast was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and parts of Britain.
Halloween also has some elements of the Romans celebrating Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. That was like a harvest feast, and we have elements of that today in our Halloween celebration—we bob for apples, for example.
When Christianity came to Britain—just like what happened when Christianity came to other cultures—they figured the best way to convert people was to incorporate their practices instead of banning them. It just so happened that November 1 was the Christian Feast of All Saints and the next day is All Souls’ Day. October 31 became the Eve of All Saints, or All Hallows’ Eve. So the modern practice of Halloween incorporates Christianity and pagan rituals.
A lot of people think of Halloween as an American holiday. In some ways it is a very American holiday, because we’ve made it big, but because of that, people don’t remember that its roots are Celtic-European.
In America, the real explosion of Halloween happened when the Irish immigrants came and brought their practice with them. It looked like a really fun thing to do. So other people wanted to do it.
Little by little it became more of a children’s holiday. People found a way to make money off of it. There are people who won’t celebrate Halloween because of its pagan origins and this idea that it’s associated with witchcraft. There are certain groups in Christianity that embrace Halloween exactly for what it is—this combination of what came before we incorporated the holiday into our American culture. So now it’s paganism, Christianity, and money.
Christmas, too, was a pagan festival for a long time, and then it went away as a practice, and then it came back in the 19th century.