U.S. (10/30/13) – Spanning the line between fall and winter, life and death, Halloween is a time for celebration and superstitions. Halloween is believed to have originated from a Celtic Festival called Samhain, where people would dress up in costumes and build bonfires to ward off roaming ghosts.
The Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1, which marked the end of their summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter and a time associated with death. The Celts also believe that the night before the new year, the edge between the living and the dead became distorted. They believed that on the night of Oct. 31, the ghosts had risen from the dead to roam the earth. The Celts celebrated Samhain. During the celebration, they wore costumes that mainly consisted of animal heads and skins and would attempt to read their fortunes.
The Celts were worried the Druids would take the presence of spirits and “predict” the future. For those who were dependent on the unstable natural world, the prophecies that were made were an important source of comfort and direction during the cold long winter. To commemorate the celebration, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where people would gather to sacrifice animals and burned crops to the Celtic deities.
When Halloween came to America, the celebration was very limited in colonial New England because of the Protestant belief system. Halloween was more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As beliefs and customs of different European ethnicities as well as the Native Americans merged, a new American version of Halloween began to transpire.
Some of the very first celebrations included “play parties,” which consisted of public events that celebrated the harvest, where people would share their stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, and sing and dance. Other festivities also included telling ghost stories and mischief-making. Even though by the middle of the 19th century, annual autumn festivities were common, Halloween was not celebrated throughout the country just yet.
By the mid-19th century, America became flooded with immigrants, especially the Irish fleeing from the Ireland potato famine, which helped to popularize the Halloween celebrations nationally. Taking from both Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up and go house to house asking for money and food, which would later be known as today’s “trick or treat” tradition.
As the late 19th century rolled in, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more for the community and neighborly get-togethers than about pranks, ghosts and witchcraft.
Over time, Halloween has evolved into a community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities.
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