Hallowe'en is a much-anticipated, and largely celebrated holiday in our home. After having just completed decorating our yard, I thought I would "decorate" my blog in honour of the holiday as well. Hallowe'en is North Americas' 2nd most popular holiday for decorating; it is estimated that 80 percent of American adults plan to give out candy, and that 93 percent of children plan to go trick-or-treating. But how many of those numbers actually know the history of this holiday?
Hallowe'en has its origins in the ancient Celtic Festival known as "Samhain", a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, which is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". The term "Hallowe'en" is shortened from "All Hallows' Even" (both "even" and "eve" are abbreviations of "evening ") as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day", which is now also known as "All Saints Day". It was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints' Day from May 13 (which had itself been the date of a pagan holiday, the Feast of the Lemures) to November 1, in 835 A.D. Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, now known as Hallowe'en, the boundary between the alive and the deceased dissolved, so spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth, causing problems such as sickness and/or damaged crops. Costumes and masks were worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them; it was believed necessary to dress as a spirit or otherworldly creature when venturing outdoors to blend in, and this is where dressing in such a manner for Hallowe'en comes from.
Houses were protected against bad spirits with candle lanterns; if the spirits got past the protection of the lanterns, the custom was to offer the spirits parcels of food to leave and spare the house another year. If children approached the door of a house, they were also given offerings of food - Hallowe'en being a harvest festival - which served to ward off the potential spirits that may lurk among them. This gradually evolved into trick-or-treating because children would knock on their neighbours' doors, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Hallowe'en festival.
The carved pumpkin, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols in America, and is commonly called a Jack o' Lantern. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. The name Jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America, where pumpkins were readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. In America the tradition of carving pumpkins is known to have preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration; it was originally associated with harvest time in general in America and did not become specifically associated with Hallowe'en until the mid-to-late 19th century.
It is important (I think) to note that Hallowe'en did not become a holiday in the United States and Canada until the 19th century, where Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) brought the holiday to the United States. Scottish emigration, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country. Original celebrations of Scottish-American and Irish-American societies were dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus. Home parties centred on children's activities, such as bobbing for apples, and various divination games often concerning future romance. Not surprisingly, pranks and mischief were common as well.
While I hope that you found this blog to be informative, please note that it is written from my Irish-Catholic perspective and is, in no respect, a complete history of the holiday. This blog does not take into account the many cultural variations of the holiday practised in the world today, nor the religious views of the holiday. For more information on the holiday, I recommend you visit Wikipedia for their very detailed description.
Thanks for reading! I welcome you to comment about the things that you and your family do to celebrate Hallowe'en...don't be afraid to include pictures!