Understanding Halloween History

It’s the week we’ve all been waiting for… it’s finally the week of Halloween! And with October 31st only days away, now is the time to celebrate before it’s too late.

Of course, you could go buy a bag of your favorite candy and pop in a scary movie. You could carve some pumpkins or get your pants scared off at a haunted house. You could even do a culmination of all these festive activities… But would you still know the true meaning of Halloween?

There’s more to Halloween than dressing up, being scary, and trick-or-treating. Halloween history goes back hundreds of years. And it’s celebrated in various ways around the world.

In this article, we’ll not only explore the history and origin of Halloween. We’ll also hash out some interesting Halloween facts to go along with this history lesson.

No fake news here. We’re about to creep it real!

Halloween History: The Early Origins

October 31st. Many of us know this date as a day when little kids dress up and go door-to-door asking for candy. We call it Halloween. And in the Christian calendar, Halloween day kicks off Allhallowtide, a period of 3 days when Christians remember and honor the dead.

The term Halloween (or Hallowe’en) derives from “hallowed evening” and “All Hallows’ Eve”. In fact, the term Halloween didn’t come into being until the mid-18th century. But the holiday and its customs have been around for far longer than that.

Where did the origin of Halloween begin?

Keep reading to find out!

Samhain

We can trace Halloween history back 2,000 years to a Celtic festival known as Samhain.

The proper way to pronounce Samhain is “sah-win”. In Gaelic, it translates to “summer’s end”. This is exactly what Samhain celebrates: The end of the harvest season. And the beginning of the darker months.

Records indicate that the origins of Samhain date as far back as the 10th century in Gaelic Ireland. But it’s likely much older than that. It’s one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals and it occurs around November 1st.

Samhain is a time when people come together and gather what they’ll need for the winter. It’s predominantly celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man to this day. But back in the medieval times, Samhain celebrators would gather whatever food they could. This was a time to bring in the herds and make note of how many animals were around for slaughter.

It was also not uncommon for celebrators to burn ritualistic bonfires. This practice is still done to this day, mostly in the Scottish Highlands and in Wales. It’s believed that the bonfires cast out evil or harmful forces. In some parts of Wales, it’s believed that this ritualistic practice can foretell the future… and even predict future marriages and deaths.

Communing with the Dead

In Celtic and Gaelic mythology, there’s this world. And then there’s the Otherworld, where a higher power reigns and where the dead go.

During Samhain, it’s believed that spirits cross into this world from the Otherworld. Many spirits wish to revisit their homes, and this is the only time of year they’re able to do so.

It’s believed that many of them bring good fortune for the winter ahead. The spirits cross over during Samhain to protect the people, as well as their livestock. Tribal villages who celebrated Samhain back hundreds of years ago would leave out offerings for the spirits. They believed that the spirits would especially bring them good fortune if they did so.

But not all spirits cross over into this world to bring protection for the winter ahead. It’s believed that some spirits are out to cause trouble. Many tribesmen would choose to stay near their homes during Samhain out of fear. Should they have to go far, they’d act superstitiously by wearing their clothes inside-out or carrying salt with them. It was also not uncommon for tribes to leave out food offerings to keep hostile spirits contained.

Halloween’s Christian Roots

It’s true that Halloween was likely influenced by the customs of Samhain. But that’s not to say that Samhain and Halloween are one in the same.

Halloween day is technically known as All Saints’ Eve. Then, the following day, All Hallows’ Day (or All Saints’ Day) takes place. This day is for celebrating all the mainstream Christian saints, as well as the lesser-known ones.

Then, on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day takes place. On this day, observant Christians commemorate their lost loved ones. This is a day when family members visit the gravestones of their past relatives. It’s also a time for helping the dead cleanse their souls and help them rest easier in purgatory.

In some parts of the world, people will ring bells to help the spirits through the cleansing process. Families will often get together for a feast. In traditional practices, followers pass out soul cakes to the less fortunate. This is also believed to help the dead cleanse their souls in purgatory.

Halloween Facts About Trick-or-Treating

The origin of Halloween has deep roots in both Samhain and Allhallowtide. But how did the concept of trick-or-treating come into being?

Halloween history shows that there are a few possible explanations as to why we give out treats on Halloween. During Samhain, treats appeased both good and unruly spirits. On All Souls’ Day, treats helped spirits caught in purgatory rest a little easier.

And it turns out that playing tricks and pranks during Halloween is more of a North American custom. By the late 19th century, North Americans conceptualized the practice playing pranks. Throwing eggs, tipping outhouse bathrooms, and messing around on farms were commonplace.

But it’s argued that playing pranks are reminiscent of certain Samhain beliefs. After all, many Celtic and Gaelic tribes believed some spirits caused mischief. So, it’s not totally random that celebrators would stir up pranks around the time of Samhain.

There’s Still Time to Celebrate & Learn More About Halloween!

The Halloween season may be coming to a close. But it’s not yet October 31st, which means there’s still time to celebrate the most glorious time of the year!

If you’re looking for some good, old-fashioned, downright terrifying fun, there’s still time to buy your tickets to Cutting Edge. We’re open October 30th and 31st, as well as November 3rd.

Don’t wait – get your tickets now!