History of Halloween: The Beginnings

On October 31, scary creatures take over your workplace, your home and even show up unannounced at your front door. Neighborhoods are filled with graveyards and bewitching decorations that give you that eerie feeling as you take in the night air. And it doesn’t help that you’ve been watching the Halloween marathon all week long to round things out. It’s no wonder that you jump and feel unsettled when you hear squeaks, creeks and thuds in the middle of the night.

If you are curious as to whether you have a reason to be spooked, keep reading ….

The Origin of Halloween

Most historians trace Halloween to the ancient Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. The Celts were farmers who believed there was one day of the year when the season of life meets the season of death. The day was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), the Celtic word for summer’s end.

The Celts celebrated Samhain on the night of October 31. On this night, they believed malevolent spirits would rise from their graves and walk amongst the living. Some of these ghosts and spirits wreaked havoc on crops and generally caused mischief, while others were even believed to demonically “possess” the bodies of the living, forcing them to do their bidding.

The Celts thought that the presence of other spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate Samhain, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, to repel and confuse the spirits. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter. It is said that Celts carried the embers from the sacred fire back to their homes in hollowed out turnips, a precursor to the jack-o’-lantern lighting tradition.

The following day, November 1, represented their new year.

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