origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of
Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is
now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France,
celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked
the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of
the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often
associated with human death. Celts believed that on the
night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds
of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night
of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed
that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition
to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought
that the presence of the otherworldly 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.
the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting
of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's
fortunes. 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.
the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into
Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV
designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor
saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that
the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival
of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday.
The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas
(from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints'
Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began
to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November
2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated
similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and
dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.
Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints',
All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.
The American tradition
of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the
early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities,
poor citizens would beg for food and families would give
them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for
their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives.
of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace
the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming
spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going
a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would
visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale,
food, and money.
of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and
Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain
and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for
the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter
were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed
that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought
that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes.
To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear
masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts
would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep
ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of
food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent
them from attempting to enter