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From Fear to Fun Size: the History of Halloween

To prepare out readers for Halloween, we explore its origins.

To prepare out readers for Halloween, we explore its origins.

Photo by: Online

Photo by: Online

To prepare out readers for Halloween, we explore its origins.

Salem Sanfilippo Solindas, Staff Reporter

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These days, Halloween is all about dressing up in costumes, walking door to door to ask for candy, and carving faces into pumpkins. The holiday is a huge American phenomenon, predicted to cost US citizens a total of 7 billion dollars this year, according to The National Retail Foundation. To put it simply, Halloween is a truly epic night people prepare for months ahead of time. However, it wasn’t always this grand.
Originally, Halloween had many different names: Samhain¹, All Hallows’ Eve, Hallowe’en, and others. Samhain was a harvest holiday in ancient Celtic civilisation meant to mark the transition between the seasons. People would light bonfires and wear costumes meant to scare away negative spirits. A popular belief held by Celts – which has more or less held up even now – is that Samhain is the night the two worlds, living and spirit, are closest together, and people of each world can cross over to the other. This is why so many supernatural or spooky things are said to happen on Halloween night, and why people tried to scare away ghosts back then.
Much later, when Romans conquered the majority of Celtic land, a few Roman holidays blended with Samhain. The first was Feralia, the day the dead were said to pass on; the second was the day of the goddess Pomona, whose emphasis on abundance and fruit may have inspired the tradition of apple bobbing.

As time passed, Samhain spread across Europe and was given many different names. Since it was still technically a season of harvest, there was a heavy emphasis on food. In England, poor citizens would go door to door begging for soul cakes², a small cake given to beggars that promised to pray for the dead relatives of those who offered the food to them. Children began to do this as well, and it slowly evolved into what we now know as trick-or-treating.
Halloween is an ancient holiday with deep cultural significance worldwide. Among Wiccans, it is treated as a New Years’ celebration as one of the eight sabbats³. All over Asia, people make offerings to their deceased relatives and ancestors, and in some countries people are said to actually speak to spirits. In many countries in Latin America, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a huge and typically very positive celebration of the lives of those who have died.
Above all, instead of being a somber day of mourning or fear like it was in the past, Halloween has evolved into a time for accepting inevitability and celebrating the beauty of life with terror, tricks, and most importantly… treats! Happy Halloween!

¹ pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-en
² also known as Harcakes
³ Wiccan holy days


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From Fear to Fun Size: the History of Halloween