The Spur

How we got to Halloween from Samhain


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The traditions of Halloween stretch back into history. From celebrating the harvest season to the modern tradition that we know today, it’s an interesting story.

The origins of Halloween date back to the Celtic tradition of Samhain. The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. They celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. The day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter, which was associated with human death. On Oct. 31, however, they celebrated Samhain. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

Celts thought that the presence of otherworldly spirits not only caused trouble and damaged crops but also thought that their presence made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make prophecies about the future. To celebrate the event, the Druids built bonfires, or bone fires, where the village would gather to burn crops and animals as offerings to the Celtic deities. During this celebration, the Celts wore costumes.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. Over the next four hundred years of Roman rule, two Roman festivals merged with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first of these festivals was Feralia, which was a day in late October where the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, who was the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol was the apple, and this incorporation into Samhain may explain why people go bobbing for apples on Halloween.

In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV established the Catholic feast of All Saints Day in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints and martyrs and moved the day of observance from May to Nov. 1.

In 1000 A.D. the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, which was a day to honor the dead. It’s believed that the church may have been trying to replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned holiday.

The celebration came to America, where it was celebrated with dressing in costume and going door-to-door asking for food or money. Now it is more traditional to ask for candy.

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How we got to Halloween from Samhain