Contrary to popular belief, Halloween was not simply a holiday invented by corporations to sell candy. Hard to believe, right? Well, maybe for some people. After all, that idea would make sense, wouldn’t it? It is one of the most commercialized holidays, right next to Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day. However, Halloween is so much more than just a marketing ploy.
The origins of Halloween can be traced back approximately 2,000 years ago to the Celtic people ofin Europe. It was originally a harvest festival known as Samhain, or “summers end’ in Gaelic, used to commemorate the changing of the seasons. The winter, especially back then, was commonly associated with death and decay. They believed that the barrier between the living and the dead was thinner during this time and spirits could cross over into the human realm.
To combat the possibility of these ghosts causing trouble and destroying crops, the Celts would light huge bonfires and burn sacrifices to their gods. They also wore costumes that were composed of animal skins and furs to ward away these nefarious spirits. Once the celebration ended, they would reignite the fires in their homes in hopes that it would keep them safe as winter progressed further.
Now that we’ve got the main origin of Halloween covered, let’s talk about all of the traditions that take place. There are so many different activities that this holiday consists of.
I think we should start with how pumpkin carving came to be. It is one of the main things that people think of whenever you picture Halloween, of course. But did you know that pumpkins were not even the go-to gourds to carve back in the day?
Nope, not pumpkins, but a vegetable that isn’t even a gourd at all: the turnip! In Ireland during the era of Samhain, there were believed to be many evil spirits roaming about such as Stingy Jack, who was rumored to outsmart the Devil himself. To keep themselves safe and frighten off the ghosts, Irish people and other Europeans would carve turnips and sometimes even potatoes, beets or radishes and place a candle inside of them. This light would protect them from the darkness and what lurks within it. Not to mention the scary faces carved into these vegetables; somehow this would be enough to ward off any spirits.
Now, what about how Samhain came to be Halloween in the first place? Well, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 All Saints Day. It was intended, of course, to honor all of the saints. The evening before this day was called All Hallows Eve. Naturally, this progressed to be known as the name we call the holiday today: Halloween.
Lastly, we have some common misconceptions. Many people consider “Día de los Muertos”, or “The Day of the Dead”, to be a “Mexican Halloween.” However, this is most certainly not the case. While both holidays have a similar theme of the veil between the living and the dead becoming blurred, Halloween is reserved for spookiness. The Day of the Dead is absolutely not intended to be a morose holiday; it is a celebration and honoring of those who have died, especially family and ancestors.
Well, now that you know more about Halloween and its origins, I hope you can find more enjoyment in celebrating the holiday from here on out. After all, it is certainly reassuring to know that it isn’t just a corporate shill of a holiday, right? Happy Samhain, too!