The History of Halloween
On October 31, you will be greeted by witches, ghouls, demons, devils and monsters when you open the door to hand out your trick-or-treat goodies. Parties for the young and old will be popping off all over town where kids and adults bob for apples, dance to the “Monster Mash” and tell scary stories to spook each other. Jack-o-lanterns, witches, black cats and creepy cobwebs decorate the front porches of neighborhood homes. Halloween is a spooky day, indeed, but where did it all start, and how? And what’s with that “trick or treat,” anyway?
Celtic legend leads us to believe that it began with their fascinating society and culture. The Celts believed that when a person died, they passed into a land of eternal happiness and youth, called Tirnan Og. This mythology predates the introduction of Christianity in their part of the world, and therefore they had no knowledge of the heaven or hell that the Christians later taught them about.
It was the mix of Christian theology and Celtic legends that led to the development of All Hallow’s Eve. On this night, the dead would return for in search of a living body to inhabit, which was said to be their only hope for the afterlife. However, modern views of the holiday differ greatly from earlier times. Today it’s more about the fun of trick-or-treating, putting on a costume, going door to door and gathering yummy sweets to fill your sack. There is simply a ton of fun, for all ages, in dressing up as your favorite fictional character, superhero or ghoulish creature. For one night you can be an entirely different person, or not a person at all!
From piety to party
For many hundreds of years Halloween was just one religious observance among many. Its reputation today is built on fun and parties, but some people seem to think that it was thought of as an evil holiday for hundreds of years. This in turn has put fear into a lot of people who might not know all the facts, and think of Halloween as some sort of anti-Christian celebration. This is not the case.
Halloween began with two different developments that coexisted peacefully. On the one hand, it was a celebration of the dead where people would gather in cemeteries around their departed loved ones. They would light candles, burn incense, pray and even dance around the headstones. They believed that by doing this it would help the dead on their journey through the afterlife. Many of those practices still find expressions today in the traditions of both cultures and individual families.
On the other hand, Halloween was a time for devout believers to ridicule the devil and make fun of demons and spirits. Dressing up as a witch and carrying a broom, or putting on a sheet to play a ghost, were exercises in religious propaganda, you might say. Irish immigrants brought several strands of this tradition to America in the 1800s, while other Western nations began to recognize the day (rather, the night) in the mid-1900s.
Halloween in the third millennium
Halloween was born in Europe, and it is still primarily the Western world that recognizes and, in different ways, celebrates it. October 31st is the designated day in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom and certain areas of Australia.
For adults, Halloween resembles nothing so much as a mix of masquerade balls and parties, something like Mardi Gras. People of all ages, in every disguise imaginable, participate in parades, decorate their homes, walk their children around the neighborhood and hand out candy at their front doors. For the kids, of course, it is a day and night of myth, mystery, magic and enchantment – and candy, of course.
Halloween has often been misunderstood as an evil day, which was never the case, and there are some people who still take it all much too seriously and seem unable to separate fact from fiction. So, if you are afraid of demons, monsters and creatures from another planet, and begin to see them invading your neighborhood, don’t worry. Just check you calendar. It’s probably Halloween,