The scariest holiday of the year has its roots in Celtic, Catholic, and Roman festivals.
Sunday is Halloween, and the frightfest has trick-or-treaters checking the Web for the history of the haunted holiday. Lookups on “what is the history of Halloween” rose 220% on Yahoo!. Spooky searches for “the haunted history of Halloween” and “the true history of Halloween” were also scary-high. Turns out, the modern-day tradition of outfitting yourself in a costume and going door to door for candy has some really ancient roots.
Originally, the festival came from the Celtic holiday Samhain, which means summer’s end, and celebrated the end of fall and the beginning of winter. This day also marked the Celts’ version of the new year — and the time, they believed, when the dead came back to roam the earth. (Insert spooky music here.)
Ancestors were honored, but evil spirits were warded off by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to hide from them. Turnips carved with faces got placed in windows to scare off the unwelcome undead. People would go “a-souling,” and in exchange for food and drink, pray for a household’s dead relatives. In Scotland, spirits were impersonated by men wearing all white with veiled faces. Sound familiar?
The holiday is actually a mash of Catholic and Celtic beliefs. Oh, and Roman. Their version of the Celtic holiday was called Feralia, which honored their dead. The Catholics — who were beginning to influence the area by the 800s — contributed All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas. The name “Halloween” comes from the Scottish “All-Hallows-Even,” meaning “the night before All Hallows Day.”
By the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants brought Halloween to America. By the 1950s, candy makers began promoting their sweet stuff as the currency to give out to trick-or-treaters, and this year it’s estimated to be a $2 billion candy bonanza. The religious ideas have been dropped, and the day as we know it — dressing up, carving pumpkins, and getting a good scare … and goodies — became the holiday it is now.