My thoughts

The History of Halloween
October 30, 2007, 6:13 am
Filed under: Intermediate


Halloween is an old holiday, and we are not totally certain of its origins. Here is what we do know. Halloween is short for “All Hallow’s Eve,” also known as All Saints Day. Halloween originated from the Pagan festival Samhain, also knows as “Witches New Year”, celebrated among the Celts of Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland. Immigrants brought the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century. Halloween is now celebrated in several parts of the Western world, however it is celebrated more in North America than other countries. After the Christians conquered the pagans, they moved the All Saints Day (a religious holiday) to October 31st. However, it is currently actually on November 1st, separate from Halloween (October 31st).

Many European cultural traditions, in particular Celtic cultures, hold that Halloween is one of the times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent. It was believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them. This is where trick-or-treating comes from.

Some images associated with Halloween include Jack-O-Lanterns (pumpkins with the face carved out and a candle placed inside) witches and their broomsticks (from the pagans), items associated with witches (such as cauldrons), wizards, magic, ghosts and goblins, black cats (believed to be unlucky as they are associated with witches).

In the New World (North America) during puritan times, there was fear about witches. The puritans were the early settlers, and lived in a strict, religious manner, wearing only dark colors. They were very superstitious, and commonly used witches as a scapegoat for their problems. If a crop failed, a farmer might blame it on a witch. This led to witch hunts, where people would round up innocent women (and sometimes men) and out them on trial for witchcraft. The most famous example of this was the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. They would be found guilty, and put to death by fire or hanging. Sometimes we currently use the term “witch hunt” to refer to the unjust persecution of people, such as in the early days of AIDS, when not much was known about the disease and innocent people were accused of spreading it.


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