All Hallows Eve or Halloween originated in Ireland 2000 years ago. It is believed to have started with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a holiday before the Celtic New Year (then celebrated on November 1st).
Folk lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts as this day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the ‘dark’. Celts believed that on this night, the line between life and death blurred, as this time was often associated with demise of vulnerable people due to the inclement weather.
In AD43 the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic territory and their beliefs had integrated with the Celts Samhain. Feralia; a day in late October to commemorated the passing of the dead and also a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple and incorporated with Samhain, this could be where the Halloween tradition of bobbing from apples comes from.
By the 9th century Christianity had spread to the Celts and in 1000AD, the church introduced All Saints Day on 2nd November, a holiday sanctioned by the church and a day to honour the dead. This is widely understood today as an attempt by the church to replace the Celtic festival of Samhain.
All Saints Day was also called All-hallows or All Hallowmas from Middle English Alholowmesse. The Celtic Samhain festival on the night before then became All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.
Halloween became popular in Maryland, America and the southern parts due to their European ethnicity and beliefs. This mixed with Native American Indian culture gave rise to an American version of Halloween. Celebrations would include ‘play parties’ to celebrate the harvest with neighbours telling ghost stories and playing ‘trick or treat’.
In the mid to latter half of the 19th century, an influx of immigrants to America (especially Irish immigrants leaving the potato famine of 1846 behind) led to national celebrations of Halloween and in the late 1800′s Halloween became a time for Americans to get together to celebrate with friends and family. Parents were swayed by newspapers and community leaders to make Halloween less frightening; hence by the start of the twentieth century Halloween had lost most of its religious and superstitious beginnings.
American communities and schools in the 1920′s tried to keep this a family event, but by the 1930’s vandalism was occurring and ‘trick or treat’ was being reintroduced. Trick or treating dated back to All Saints Day when poor people would beg for food and families would give them soul cakes in return for the promise to pray for the family’s deceased.
“Jack-o’-lanterns” was an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. Turnips and potatoes were carved to represent Stingy Jack and as Irish immigrants moved to America; a pumpkin was used instead and was left outside household windows and doorways to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
Even though Halloween has been reincarnated in several ways in the last two thousand years, its roots are still deeply Celtic and in Londerry, Ireland, present day celebrations are on a par with those in the USA.