Halloween: A Brief History

By: Damien Knight

(Written in Oct 2016)
As All Hallow’s Eve or as we today call it Halloween approaches I thought it pertinent we reflect on the origins of this so called “Devils Holiday.” For me it is particularly important as my family follows the tradition of the Samhain feast. A feast that is said to have come from old harvest feasts back in Europe before the spread of Christianity and is supposedly the original purpose of Halloween.
Samhain was an ancient Celtic festival that celebrated the end of harvest and the preparation of winter. It was believed by the Celts that during this time the spirit world veil was thinnest. Many other cultures today still believe this which is why the Day of The Dead is celebrated on November second while the veil is still ‘thin.’ Like the Day of the Dead, Samhain also featured paying respect to the deceased and Aos Si (old gods, fae) that they might survive the coming winter. They would do this by leaving an offering of drink and a small portion of that years harvest.
It is customarily believed costumes were donned at some point to trick spirits. The earliest known use of costumes for trick or treating was in mediaeval Europe during Hallowmas on November first. Poor folk would go door to door begging for food in return for praying over the houses dead. This practice was called Souling. This was followed by All Souls Day on November second which was similar to the Day of the Dead in today’s modern culture.
Halloween was slow to pick up in America. The earliest report of something like trick or treat in America was in the early 1900’s. While stories portray Halloween as an invention by American adults to keep kids from performing trick (pranks) and instead get treats this is not entirely true. In some places kids had to stage protests due to adult unwillingness to celebrate. By 1952 Halloween became a well-established American custom.
All around the world people celebrate Halloween and various other death honouring holidays. While today we enjoy getting our scare on it is good to remember that Halloween was a day to pay respect to those who passed on. It isn’t about fearing death but respecting it and enjoying life. Happy Halloween!

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