A brief history of Halloween. Click if you dare!

Posted by Brian Gallagher on October 31, 2014 in Ancestry.com Site, United Kingdom


Halloween is here! Time to dress up and trick or treat, attend bonfires, parties and firework displays, and generally enjoy yourself. Have you ever wondered where these traditions come from?

Halloween is a mixed bag of different traditions and customs influenced by diverse religions and cultures. It all began in Ireland’s Celtic past. It was at the end of the harvest season that the Celtic people believed summer gave way to winter, or light gave way to dark. It was essentially the Celtic New Year. It was a time of celebration. The crops had been harvested and the animals brought in from the mountains and fields. This festival was called Samhain, pronounced Sow-in.

The Celts believed that a day began in darkness and moved into light. Samhain was a time when they believed that the divide between the living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest. As a result the spirits of the dead could rise and walk among the living. The Celts lit large bonfires to protect themselves from these spirits. In turn the extinguished fires of each house were reignited from the flames of the ceremonial bonfires.

As Christianity spread and gained influence, pagan festivals were frowned upon. Samhain was incorporated into the Christian calendar with the creation of All Saints or All Hallows Day on November 1st. The 31st of October became All Hallows Eve which over time morphed into the word Halloween. Many pagan elements and traditions survived and became part of the Christian holiday. Wearing scary masks, lighting bonfires and playing tricks on neighbors all survived as Halloween customs.

The mass emigration of Irish people during the famine brought many of the customs and folklore to America. Halloween traditions are alive and well and Halloween is a major holiday in the United States and in many countries around the world. Halloween is now a time for fun and frivolity and of course – scary movies and sweets!

Enjoy yourself this Halloween but be sure to watch out for ghosts and monsters lurking in the shadows.

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