The Origins of Halloween

Published 19 Dec 2016

On every night of the first day of November, children are found in the streets, wearing weird spooky and sometimes, funny costumes. They knock on the doors to ask for trick or treats and they celebrate parties while bobbing apples up and about. Yet how does it all stated anyway? While some people thinks that it is a kind of demonic ritual while others prefer to call it as an ordinary celebration which started in oblivion.

According to a book by Sir James Frazer, “The Golden Bough”, mystery can be found in every search for truth. And in his search for the root of this “Halloween traditions” as our age have came to know, he have discovered several fascinating information that can open our minds into the real concept behind “Halloween” as a tradition and custom that have been coloring The first day of our November since time immemorial.

The word Halloween originated from the Catholic Churches which signifies the “All hollows day” otherwise rendered or more popularly accepted as “All Saints Day” which is every November 1st of the year. Yet a deeper extrapolation would lead us to the discovery that this tradition is much more older than Catholicism itself, in fact during the 5th century before the birth of Christ, this day have been celebrated by the Celtics in order to mark the end of their summer days. This was then known to be Samhain which was done to praise the Sun God.

With respect to this, it was believed that the spirits of the people who have died the previous year would hunt for a desirable living body which it would posses on the year to come. The Celts said that this is done so that the spirits would be able to go to the afterlife.

The living would not want to be possessed by the spirit, especially since; they are bound to be set on fire in a stake at the town’s center in order to warn off any other spirits who would like to posses the living.

To prevent any possible possession, the villagers turned off their lights and wore clothes that are weird and undesirable. Aside from that they act as if they are ghost or zombies while parading around the town on the dawn of November 1. It is believed that this action would frighten all the spirits away and they would not want to posses their contaminated looking bodies.

Another explanation why the Celtics extinguish their lights was in able for the people to come together in Usinach or Gahagan which stands in the middle of Ireland where a Druidic fire was kept on burning all night long. This tradition is still done by some villages in Ireland and Scotland.

The Romans was believed to be the first one to adapt the Celtic holiday through their personal celebration of the day in honor of Pomona which is the Romans trees and fruits goddess symbolizes by an apple. Through this explanation another Halloween tradition was unveiled, which is the bobbing of apples during the festive Halloween. There were also Celtic rituals which include burying apples to feed the spirits on their way to the after-life.

The traditions were also embraced by the Christian religion on or before the 19th century. Originally the day wherein the dead relatives and friends are being remembered and visited to give them some sacrifices, offer up prayers and remembrance was on February which is commonly known before as the Ferralia.

Nowadays, the day was changed to the second of November and was called the “all Souls Day”. However, this tradition was usually neglected because most Christians visits the graves on the first day of November and stay there overnight until the dawn of the November 2. From the “All Souls Day” another custom was derived, the “trick or treats”. It was believed to have came from the Christian tradition of “souling” wherein every night of the first day of November beggars would go from one house to another asking for “soul cakes” or just any other bread or pastries. When they receive this, they promise to pray for the dead family member or relation of the good-hearted donor.

This belief was anchored on the notion that before the soul was judge, it would first stay into a place called the “Limbo” wherein some of their sins when they were still living was purged or cleanse.

This was needed so that the soul would enter the heavens purely. According to the Christian religion, prayers are needed in order to expedite the passage to heaven even prayers by strangers. Others on the other hand would ask for prayers for themselves instead for their dead relatives, in order to gain better luck and prosperity.

During this day which is originally considered as a new year’s day. People tend to reflect on the different things, words and actions that they have conducted the previous year with a promise to plan for ideas for the next year. This was done through remembering one’s ancestor while thanking them for their guidance.

Also it was a ritual done by Wiccan Samhain, wherein they wrote all their negative attribute or all their bad luck in a piece of paper and then burning it so that it would not happen the next year.

The Jack-o-lantern was another custom that came down from the Celtics. It originated from folklore. According to it, Jack was a bad guy and a drunkard. He was drunk every night and people are afraid of him because he always does tricks on them.

One day he has been able to trick Satan himself. He asked Satan to climb a tree. Since he was good in bullying and tricking other people, Satan agreed. Afterwards when Satan have finally reached the top, he carved a cross on the trunk of the tree to prevent Satan from going down of the tree. Thus, Satan was trapped in the tree and when Jack made a deal with him, Satan cannot say no. He asked the devil not to ever tempt him again and the Devil says ok.

However when Jack died, he was not permitted to enter the kingdom of God because he was very sinful before. However, he was also not granted permission to go to hell because he has tricked the devil before. In able to resolve the spirits conflict, the devil handed him an ember. This was supposed to light his path through the darkness. In able for the ember to last longer than it would usually do, it was placed inside a turnip which was hollowed.

So, originally, jack-o-lanterns were turnips. But since there are more pumpkins in America than turnips, they changed the design to pumpkins because it was cheaper and are more abundant. Since the devil is somehow afraid to be tricked again by Jack, a Jack-o-lantern was believed to be effective in warding off the evil spirits and even Satan himself.

Other rituals and traditions that involves in the celebration of Halloween includes the lighting of torch or candles in able to ward off free lingering spirits from attempting to enter the house. In Ireland, the people would use torches and circle their house on the dawn of November 1 in able to protect the house along with the whole family and their livestock from any unfortunate events.

Some even set bonfires in able to honor the Gods and Goddesses. This was also believed to be the rituals done by witches because the line or dimension between the human world and the spirit world is thinnest during the first day of November.

Also, the Belgian Samhain custom also includes the preparation of tiny white cookies or cakes that are called the “cakes of the dead”. They prepare and eat these cakes in honor of the dead. The more you ate this cakes, the more blessed you will be, because the dead would guide you.

The black and orange colors during Halloween doe not only came from pumpkins and darkness, but also have its origin in the Celtic tradition. According to them, the orange and black candles burned thought the night of Samhain would bring good luck. If the candle would be blown out, there is a ghost nearby or a ghost would be coming.

Another belief concerns the moon, whereas a new moon on Samhain would mean that there are new things that would happen or that would begin. Waxing moon means that there would be an increase in growth and more luck the coming year. Full moon signifies greatest magic powers. A secret wish may come true in the coming year if it was done during the night of Samhain. A waning moon is the only time where bad luck awaits. It pertains to bad luck, bad health and many obstacles for the upcoming year.

Works Cited

  • Bonewits, I. The Real Origin of Halloween. 2006. Retrieved on October 13, 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:
  • Bull, J. The Halloween Book. DK Children. 2000.
  • Crystal Forest. 2005. Samhain Lore and History. Retrieved on October 13, 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:
  • Frazer, J. The Golden Bough. Touchstone. 1995.
  • Panati, Charles, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Harpercollins. 1987.
  • Wilson, Jerry. History and Customs of Halloween. 2002. Retrieved on October 13, 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:
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