History of Halloween
Celebrated annually on October 31st, Halloween is a melting pot of Catholic and Roman religious traditions, Celtic rituals, and European festivities. The holiday borders on the departure of fall and the initiation of winter, resulting in a deep-rooted sensation of celebrating life and death, prosperity and poverty, health and sickness. But how did all of these beliefs blend together, and why is it we celebrate Halloween with costumes, masks, and decorations? Let's take a brief look into the past:
Essentially, the tradition of wearing Halloween costumes stems from an Irish and Scottish ritual known as “guising.” In the 19th century, children would dress up in various costumes and go house to house, looking for gifts of coins, food, or snacks. One of the earliest records of guising is in 1895, where Scottish masqueraders carried lanterns made out of turnips and visited homes to be rewarded with fruit, money, or cakes. When the Scottish and Irish migrated to America, they brought along their guising tradition.
Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Celtic civilization celebrated their new year on November 1st. This celebration commemorated the end of summer harvesting and the start of winter's chill. The Celtics believed that the night before the new year – October 31st – was when the borders between life and death were weakest. To celebrate this occasion, Celtic druids built large bonfires and people gathered to burn crops, sacrifice animals, and worship Celtic deities. The Celts that attended wore costumes and masks made out of animal skins and heads. Overtime, this celebration became part of the Roman Empire (known as Feralia), Christianity (known as Hallowmas), and then America (known as Halloween). During it all, individuals continued wearing masks much like the Halloween masks we wear today.
While Halloween costumes originated from the Scottish and Irish tradition of guising, trick-or-treating actually comes from the Medieval tradition of “souling.” Souling occurred on All Saints Day, when poor folk would go door to door to say prayers for the dead. In return, the occupants of a house would give the poor a food known as a “soul cake,” which was basically a small round cake. This helped feed the poor and kept the Christian tradition of prayer alive – a win-win situation for the religious Medieval era. With the huge spread of Christianity during the Medieval ages, the tradition of souling spread like wildfire, eventually reaching colonial America.
To pinpoint a single origin for Halloween props and decorations would be like finding the origin of existence – it is too complicated for anyone to agree upon. Instead, it is commonly understood that most Halloween decorations come from many sources, such as religious and pagan traditions, Gothic and horror novels, national customs, and classic horror films. Halloween is one of the only holidays to continue developing a sense of identity, with no real signs of stopping its continued development.