Tomorrow is Halloween! As we do for all holidays at Procure, we see this as an excuse to learn something new. For Halloween, this turns out to be a complex and twisting tale of holidays evolving and changing over thousands of years.
2,000 Years Ago
We can trace Halloween to the Celtic Festival of Samhain from about 2000 years ago. It was celebrated around what we now call Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom. For the Celts, this was the “New Year.” It was believed that on the night before the New Year the boundary between the world of the living and the dead was blurred. At this time, ghosts and spirits could walk on the Earth once more.
The spirits were believed to be a mixed-blessing. They could destroy crops with frost and blight before they were harvested or help Druids and Priests predict the future. In those dark days, winter was seen as a cold, long, dangerous, and miserable time. Misfortunes were blamed on the supernatural and likewise, hope to survive needed to rest in the super natural as well.
Roman influence in the period would further add a celebration of the dead when their holiday of Feralia would become intertwined with Samhain. This influence would carry forward, deeply altering the holiday by the time Christian Influence entered the area.
The celebration consisted of bonfires, sacrifices, and costumes made of animal heads and skins. Some of these traditions persist today. It’s common to hold bonfires in the fall and most of us go trick or treating at least once in life.
1000 Years Ago
The Catholic Church began to spread into Celtic lands and slowly started to exert its influence. Efforts were made to replace existing Celtic traditions with Catholic-Approved versions. A day to honor the Dead was created on November 2nd, “All Souls Day.” This was intended to replace the Celtic Festival of the Dead, a celebration similar to the traditional Samhain. There were costumes of saints, angels, and devils; parades, and bonfires. The celebration came to be called “All-Hallowmas.” The night before came to be called All-Hallows Eve. Time would shape this into the word Halloween.
Around the 1500s, the celebration came to include “mumming” and “guising” in Ireland, the tradition of going house to house, in costumes of ghosts and the dead, to recite verses and songs for food. The reasoning and specifics ranged from offerings to the dead, to ‘paying’ with treats to prevent mischief. In some cases, the costumes were believed to protect against vengeful spirits and ghosts. This practice would carry to the Americas in the centuries to follow.
Halloween in the States
The mixing pot of European and American Indians lead to a different form of Halloween altogether. There were parties and events to celebrate the harvest. It was common to tell stories of the dead and ghosts, dance at parties, and cause some harmless mischief. At least, in the southern regions of the then 13-Colonies.
The strong Christian belief systems of the Northern Colonies prevent Halloween from taking route there as it did in more permissive colonies. It would take an influx of new immigrants, Irish fleeing the potato famine, to spread the holiday across the young nation.
This influx of Irish Immigrants brought with it new traditions. People would begin to wear their costumes and go house to house, seeking food or money, a tradition which may have roots as far back as All Souls’ Day. The practice would briefly die off before resurfacing later to become our modern concept of Trick or treating after the Great Depression, during the spread of urbanization.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, efforts were made to make Halloween a softer event. It would become less scary and instead focus on simple community fun. The ghosts would become a theme, but less of an item to be worshipped or celebrated. These efforts would lead to a youth-centric Halloween with the 1950s and the baby-boomers. Trick or Treating rose again as a common practice, in some respects seen as a way to bribe the young into not tricking, pranking, or vandalizing their elders.
We’ve continued to add to the holiday, with the invention of Horror and Thriller Movies, Haunted Attractions like our (relatively) local Pennhurst Asylum and Terror Behind the Walls @ Eastern State Penitentiary, and ever more elaborate haunted house attractions.
Our humble Halloween has come a long way from it’s first celebrations.
Happy Halloween, from all of us at Procure Inc.