I’ve often wondered how Hallowe’en came about. It is the 2nd most celebrated occasion in America, and the fact that it has lasted as long as it has, says to me that there must be some significance.
Well, there’s no simple answer, and there appears to be a few different myths and stories, and since the internet wasn’t alive in the 1500s (which is when most say the whole thing started), the details are sketchy.
Here’s what I was able to piece together.
Most accounts claim that Hallowe’en was originated by the Celts in the 1500s in connection with a festival which was held on November 1 called Samhain.
Samhain means summer’s end in Gaelic, and November 1 was considered, at the time, to be the beginning of winter, and the beginning of a new year.
Hallowe’en is also linked to the ancient Romans. In 609AD, the Pope designated November 1 as All Saint’s Day to honour all of the Saints and Martyrs, and dubbed the night before as All Hallows Eve. The Romans also designated November 2 as All Soul’s Day, which is a day when the dead are honoured and remembered. Interestingly, this coincides with the Day of the Dead celebrations which are observed in Mexico starting on October 31 and ending on November 2.
The tradition of dressing in costumes is a bit mixed. Some say it started by the Celts wearing demon costumes during Samhain, so that if they accidentally ran into a real demon, it would think that the costumed demon was one of them, thereby providing protection for the mortal.
However, other accounts claim that the idea of wearing costumes and going door to door, began in medieval times when poor people dressed in costumes on All Hallow’s Eve, and went door to door asking for food in exchange for prayers to protect the homeowners from the demons and ghosts that would cross over during this time.
This practice was called souling, and usually, the food that was provided was a sweet treat and in particular, something called a “soul cake” which was a cake which was baked to protect those who ate it from evil spirits.
The term “trick or treat” appears to be a bit uglier though. It is thought that “souling” evolved into “trick or treating” when youngsters would go door to door on Hallowe’en demanding treats, and if homeowners did not provide them, they would vandalize their property. Luckily, going into the beginning of the 20th century, this practice had largely died out.
During World War II, the practice of giving out candy was halted due to rationing, but it picked up again in the late 1940s and 1950s and has evolved into the celebration that we know today.
One of the most celebrated travel destinations for Hallowe’en is Salem, Massachusetts, site of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. See my post about Salem here for more history and Hallowe’en fun!
Happy Ghosts and Goblins season. Stay safe … especially you little ones … and um, keep an eye out for demons!