Modern day Halloween is a mishmash of many customs from throughout the world, but it has its deepest roots in ancient Celtic Pagan tradition. Samhain, meaning “Summers end”,
makes up one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals and is celebrated from sunset on October to sunset the following day. This point is midway between Autumn equinox and Winter 31st solstice. Samhain is an ancient festival dating back more than 2,000 years, but it has some very familiar customs.
In Celtic culture, Samhain was a time where communities came together to celebrate the harvest and honor the dead. During these celebrations, a large bonfire was lit and people wore costumes and danced around the fire. The dances were used to tell stories about the cycles of life and death. The Celts believed the souls of the dead were released during this time and the costumes and ceremony were used to honor those transitions.
Samhain was also a time to honor and celebrate the harvest. Crops were burned and animal sacrifices were made to appease the Gods and provide them their share of the season’s bounty. Great meals were prepared communally and enjoyed and offerings were left on banquet tables to appease the restless, wandering spirits.
While this tradition was a very serious holiday for the Celtic people; it wasn’t a holiday without it’s share of good humor. In fact, it was common practice to pull pranks, like moving livestock to different fields. Could this be where the trick in “trick or treat” originated? Perhaps so.
It was also believed that this was when the veil between the living and the dead was thethinnest. Shamans and other elders used this time to tell the fortunes of others using different Divination methods, believing they could more easily appeal to the spirits to provide helpful information.
At night, many dressed up as demons as a way to protect themselves from wandering evil spirits. After all, if a traveling demon should happen upon a costumed villager; he would be fooled into thinking it was a fellow demon and move on. This is also where today’s modern Jack-o-Lanterns were first seen. Turnips were hollowed out and made into lamps to ward off evil spirits and scare away troubled ghosts.
Over time, people began dressing as ghosts and other melevolent creatures performing for food and drink. This custom, called “mumming”, is considered the initial pre-cursor to modern day trick-or-treating.
As you can see, there are a great many links between modern day Halloween traditions and ancient Pagan traditions. Although it’s been largely commercialized in modern times; Halloween is indeed an amazing holiday with a fascinating history.