From Samhain to Halloween, Stories You Didn’t Know

How it all happened

Halloween is celebrated each year on October 31 and has its roots in age-old European traditions. 2000 years ago the ancient Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, known as the Celtic festival of Samhain. The time marked the beginning of the dark winters and the end of harvest. People often associated this time with death. The Celts believed that a day before new year, the ghosts of the dead returned to the living world. Marking this belief, they started celebrating Samhain on October 31.

The Celts thought their priests would be able to make predictions about the future if the ghosts came to the living world from the dead. These auguries were important source of direction for the Celts to survive the long dark winters.

During 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honour of the Christian martyrs and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church on May 13. Later the festival included all saints along with martyrs in accordance to directions set by Pope Gregory III and the date of observance was moved to November 1. During the 9th century, All Souls Day was similar to Samhain and was celebrated in the Celtic lands with bonfires and dressing up in costumes of angels, devils and saints. By this time, Christianity had spread in the Celtic regions, now known as Ireland.

The All Saints Day celebration became popularly known as All-Hallows and the traditional night of Samhain celebrated by the Celts, a day before All Saints Day began to be referred to as All-Hallows Eve. Eventually, the name Halloween came into existence.

Halloween in America

Immigrants carry their cultures to new lands. Halloween was previously limited to colonial New England. But during the late 19th century, millions of Irish immigrants moved to America to survive from the Irish Potato Famine. The majority of Irish (once Celts in ancient times), popularized the celebration of Halloween countrywide.

Americans began dressing up in costumes and went to the neighbourhood to ask for food or money, a practise which later got popularly known as Trick-or-Treat.

During 1930s Halloween was observed as a community centered holiday in America. However, many communities faced vandalism during celebrations. The same were checked and limited by leaders by the end of 1950s and Halloween eventually evolved into a holiday.

Halloween is now estimated at more than a billion dollar business in America alone and is the largest commercial holiday in the country after Christmas. The festival is now celebrated in several countries including some cities in India, where bars, pubs and restaurants earn the most revenue with Halloween themed parties, cakes, food and decorations.