The Origins of Halloween

Today may mark the most masks worn in the US all year, due to the holiday. Contemporarily, Halloween is the day where we all dress up in costumes and either go door-to-door trick or treating, attend a party, or simply get dressed up for the sake of it. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are opting not to do so, including myself. All of this led me to wonder why we celebrate this holiday, as its only the secular US holiday that we were not expressively taught the origins about in school.

Halloween, like St. Patrick’s Day, traces back to Ireland.  Thousands of years ago, the Gaelic culture held the Samhain Festival. It shares parallels with All Saints’ Day from Mexican culture, as it celebrates the day that ghosts come back to Earth on this night. The Celtics believed that priests could make better predictions for the future tonight due to the presence of spirits and augmented this trial by building huge bonfires. These bonfires would include throwing crops and animals into the bonfire, and the Celts would wear the heads & skins of these animals during this event while telling fortunes.

As years passed, the Romans took over the Celtics’ land and combined two of their holidays, Feralia and Pomona day, with Samhain. Due to the celebration of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits & abundance, bobbing for apples was integrated as an autumnal celebration. Other segments of this holiday included dressing a saints, devils, and angels. This new holiday became All Saint’s Day, or All-Hallowmas. Alholowmesse is the Middle English term for All Saints’ Day, and Halloween is likely this word’s derivative. All Saint’s Day is still held on November 1, and All Saint’s/All Hallow’s Eve is on October 31.

All Hallow’s Eve came to the New World slowly, due to orthodox Protestant beliefs in New England limiting these sorts of celebrations. However, the British Colonies from Maryland downwards adopted this holiday swiftly as it was an integration of not only various European ethnic groups, but also Native American traditions. This led to activities birthing on this day that are common today, such as autumn festivals and ghost stories. Halloween becomes a term by dialect slang now and is spurred around the country as the Irish Potato Famine is leading millions of Irish immigrants into the U.S., spreading the holiday.

Today, Halloween is one of the largest holidays in the United States and is indicative of many U.S. ideals. This holiday started as a cultural festival, which was then merged with a religious tradition, and ultimately became a secular holiday meant to band various streaks of Americans together. Halloween brings billions of dollars of direct economic activity annually now and unofficially kicks off the holiday season. The economic activity does not even include the revenue brought by Halloween films either, which are ingrained tightly into the nation’s fabric. Although this year’s Halloween is less celebratory and quieter than usual, it should not hold back our pursuit of its core tenets: remembering the lost and embracing multiculturalism.

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