30 Oct History and Halloween: Pagan Origins of Halloween
The Halloween (also known as All Hallows Eve) that is celebrated many centuries ago is far different from how we celebrate today. It is far from the kids and adults being clad in costumes asking for treats around the neighbourhood; different from the parties and masquerades that we enjoy now at present. In the past, it is known as the Celtic festival Samhain, the Celtic New Year, a day when the spirits of the dead come back to Earth and become available to mankind.
As the summer ends, Old Germanic and Celtic communities celebrate. This is the mark of the start of winter and the time of the year often associated with human death. This is also the reason why Druids or the Celtic pagans believe that the spirits who have passed away a year ago roam the Earth to visit the living.
During the celebration, the Celts also wore costumes, but not the kind of Halloween costumes that we have today. They were consisted of animal heads and skins. There were no children having trick-or-treat on the streets. Instead, crops and animals were burned as sacrifices. The dead souls roaming on the Earth are either entertained with the rituals of the celebration or busy finding bodies to possess. Dressing up like ghosts, witches, goblins, and monsters is believed to be a way to avoid being possessed by these spirits.
After the Romans conquered most of the Celtic communities, two Roman festivals were introduced in the territory. One was the Feralia: commemoration of the passing of the dead, and the other was the day of honoring for Pomona, where apples are served (which might have been the origin of the practice of “bobbing for apples” during Halloween).
As the community began to convert to Christianity, modified versions of several religious traditions were implemented to be able to win more religious converts. The Samhain was substituted by the All Saints Day in 835, while the first All Soul’s Day (the closest resemblance to the Samhain and Halloween celebration today), was first instituted at a French monastery back in 998 and have spread out to Europe and other neighbouring countries since then.
The trick-or-treat tradition, on the other hand, was started by the Americans in 1846 and made the celebration more community-centered rather than what it was used to be – a collection of ritual activities.
Although the Halloween celebration and decorations have varied and have transcended to a more festive light nowadays, the fear and the belief that spirits of the dead are amongst us makes the holiday a truly mysterious, scary, yet entertaining one.