Halloween History: Then And Now

The history of Halloween, why it was originally celebrated and how we celebrate today.

Halloween conjures up images of happy children going door to door trick or treating, bobbing for apples and glowing jack-o-lanterns. Through the centuries this has been the modern day scene for October 31st, Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve.

All Hallows Eve, also known as Samhain, was originally observed by the ancient Celts as the day to celebrate the onset of Fall and the beginning of their New Year. It was also a festival of the dead, a time to remember those who had passed and a time when witches, goblins and demons could walk the earth.

Lanterns made out of gourds were left along paths to guide the way home for ancestors while others were carved with scary faces and carried or placed on porches to ward off the demons and witches. These lantern gourds are now the fancy and fun carved jack-o-lanterns we see today.

Celebrations of ancient rituals remain, but in somewhat different forms. Children used to go door to door begging for items to burn with the witches. Today they go door to door trick or treating for candy. The playing of tricks on unfortunate victims also lends All Hallows Eve to be known as Mischief Night. In ancient days, children dressed as goblins and ghosts would play tricks and cause trouble, but who is to say it wasn't the real ghosts and goblins being mischievous.

At Halloween parties, children bob for apples and girls comb their hair in front of a mirror to glimpse their future husbands. Many of the fun games come from ancient rituals that were based in very basic spells and magic and practiced on All Hallows Eve when magical powers were said to be at their strongest.

Samhain is more than dressing up like witches and demons and collecting candy door to door. It is a time of getting rid of weaknesses, of bringing the animals in for winter and preparing for the coming months of cold weather and Fall Harvests. As a festival of the dead, with November 1st being All Saints Day, Halloween is a time of remembrance of our ancestors. As the Celtic New Year it also symbolizes a time of looking toward the future. Similar to the God Janus with the two faces, one looking back toward the past and the other looking forward toward the future, Halloween lets us put on masks and then cast them off, as if we are getting rid of our weaknesses and preparing for the New Year.

Of all the Pagan holidays, Halloween was always the most popular and widely celebrated. It is not a holiday of evil, as it was originally meant to ward off the evil that might walk the earth. On All Hallows Eve it is said that the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.

Today, celebrations of Halloween remain popular. Children still go trick or treating. Jack-o-lanterns glow on porches and bobbing for apples and other games still entertain at parties. In some schools and communities they do not recognize the celebration of Halloween proper due to the connection with Paganism. Instead, they have a Fall Harvest, recognizing the coming of winter.

No matter what the name; All Hallows Eve, Samhain, or Hallow E'en, Halloween is a holiday to share and enjoy. Carving the jack-o-lantern, dressing up in scary and fun costumes, trick or treating and being outside on cool nights with the leaves falling and a bright orange moon are all things we associate with October 31st. And don't forget the candy. Halloween wouldn't be complete without the treats and the candy corn.

© High Speed Ventures 2011