The roots of Halloween date back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow). The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter which was a time associated with death. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.
By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic home land. During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomoma were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day. It's now believed that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows. So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-hallows Eve.
In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.
Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits. They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.
Do you have a favorite costume this year? Are you planning to go to a party? Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.