Trick or treat! These are words every kid looks forward to saying every October. Halloween, a festival that is used to symbolize the boundary between the living and the dead, has now become one of love and sharing of candies. Although Halloween is widely celebrated globally today, it originated from an ancient Celtic festival, dating about two thousand years ago.
This article will walk you through this festival’s origins, including the history behind the popular ‘trick or treat’ phrase and the use of pumpkins today.
History of Halloween
October 31 is the time of the year dedicated to celebrating Halloween worldwide today. This festival is characterized by kids and adults dressing up in scary costumes and going from door to door asking for candy and other treats, but that wasn’t always the case.
Halloween was originally a festival about the living and the dead. About two thousand years ago, the Celts had a festival known as Samhain. Back then, the Celtic year was based on growing seasons. The Celts believed that at the boundary between the end of summer and the beginning of winter, on October 31, dead people would come back into the mortal realm as ghosts.
The festival of Samhain was a symbol of that boundary. In this festival, the Celts, led by certain priests, would light bonfires to repel those ghosts. The priests that lead the celebrations were called druids, and they would ensure every house in their villages had the bonfire, which was deemed sacred, to protect the people through winter.
In 43 AD, Romans gained control of Celtic lands. Like the Samhain, the Romans then imprinted their beliefs and cultures into many Celtic festivals and cultural events. This is not to say they ended the Samhain festival; they only made some additions. One of the additions still in practice today is the bobbing for apples.
The Romans’ reign lasted for more than four hundred years but eventually came to an end when German warriors invaded the Celtic lands, pushing many Celts further north and west of Britain. This invasion also saw the introduction of Christianity to Celtic tribes and civilizations.
Like the Romans, the Christians also brought their own beliefs and principles into Celtic cultural events, like the Samhain. The Christians used to celebrate an event known as All Hallows’ Day as a remembrance of fallen Christians. This Christian celebration, on May 13, was about four months before the Samhain festival. However, the then pope, Pope Gregory, moved the festival to November 1. The reasoning behind this move was that since the Christians did not support the indigenous Celtic Samhain festival, moving a Christian festival close to the Samhain festival will lead to the change or even replacement of the Samhain festival. It made sense, too, given the similarities between the two festivals.
Therefore, the Samhain festival was a day before the All Hallows festival, and the night before the Christian festival was referred to as Hallow eve. It’s all starting to come together now, isn’t it? With time, there were many changes to Hallow eve’s name before it became Halloween, as we know it.
The Samhain festival has seen many other changes to it over time. Immigration of other people into the Celtic tribes also saw the integration of some of their cultures into Halloween, as with the Romans, Germans, and the Christians. Some of the notable additions are the phrase ‘trick or treat’ and, of course, carving pumpkins.
Trick or treat
The tradition of children going from door to door demanding treats started hundreds of years ago in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Then, children would dress up and go from door to door, asking people to give them food. The children would offer to pray for people in return for food.
Around the eleventh century, the food was in the form of tasty cross-shaped cakes, known as soul cakes. It was believed that eating the cakes represented the freedom of spirits from purgatory. This tradition also changed with time, and around the nineteenth century, children would offer certain renditions, like jokes, songs, and poems, rather than prayers. Soon, the tradition involved children playing pranks on people to force treats and money out of them. The phrase ‘trick or treat’ came from American immigrants.
Carving pumpkins is another staple in Halloween celebrations today. During the original Samhain festival, kids would make lanterns out of turnips when they went treat-hunting. That wasn’t the only use of the turnips, though, as people also carved hollow turnips to repel evil spirits from their homes.
The nineteenth-century saw the influx of many Irish immigrants to America. Since the immigrants couldn’t find turnips in America, they simply carved Pumpkins instead.
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