As Halloween ominously looms its creepy head, it’s time to get into character and resurrect some annual traditions. Crack open some fireball whiskey and apple cider, put on a Friday the 13th marathon, carve ghoulish faces into pumpkins and eat enough candy to induce a sugar coma.
Though the tradition we have come to enjoy at the end of every October may appear to be a national treat, Halloween itself is not a tradition with uniquely American roots.
The Halloween ritual originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which honored the Celtic Lord of the Dead. The Celts believed that this time of the year, the end of summer and beginning of winter, was associated with human death, with the ghosts of the dead returning to Earth.
During this festival, the Celts would light sacred fires and dress up in costumes, believing it would ward off demons and ghosts.
At some point during the eighth century, after the Roman Empire had conquered Celtic territory, Pope Gregory III changed this festival to All Saints’ Day to commemorate all Christian saints and martyrs.
Later on, it was changed to All Souls Day and moved to Nov. 2 to honor the day of the dead. It is believed that the Christian church was attempting to replace Samhain with a religious-sanctioned holiday.
The practice of “trick-or-treating” most likely dates back to the Middle Ages when it resembled the late medieval practice of “souling.” Those who were poor would go door to door on Nov. 1 and beg for “soul cakes,” which were usually baked goods or some sort of food, in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day.
This practice evolved into children visiting houses in their neighborhood to be given ale, food and money, and now in contemporary culture, candy.
As All Souls Day, or Halloween, crossed cultures and became more widespread, certain new traditions were cultivated.
In Mexico, Halloween falls during the three days of the Día de los Muertos celebration which begins on Oct. 31. Día de los Muertos translates to Day of the Dead, when people honored the dead by creating sugar skulls and skeletons. Mexicans also practiced the ritual of “trick-or-treating” and dressing up in costumes, similar to America’s present-day celebration of Halloween.
Since Halloween traditions date much farther back, before America was even colonized, our country became a melting pot of traditions which essentially left us to create an entirely new culture of Halloween festivities.
Very early Halloween celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events to celebrate the harvest, share ghost stories, dance, sing and cause mischief.
As the United States continued to be flooded with new immigrants around the mid-1800s, the move towards more community gatherings and less involvement with ghosts and witchcraft began happening.
Trick-or-treating soon became popular and Halloween parties began to be the most entertaining way to celebrate the day.
What once was a “frightening” and “grotesque” holiday soon spawned a holiday that centered on lighthearted fun.
Now, Halloween has become just a thrilling night of debauchery that has left its roots of religious tradition. Horror movies have become largely popularized and Halloween celebrations like Knotts’ “Halloween Haunt” or haunted houses like Rob Zombie’s “Great American Nightmare” have glamorized the concept of Halloween.
Children may love Halloween for all the candy and for the opportunity to dress up as their favorite superhero, but as we now know, the history of the holiday is much more extensive.
Our contemporary ideas of Halloween seem much more enjoyable than what it has been centuries ago. Slasher films, jack-o’-lanterns and ghost stories are nostalgic of our childhood and have become a fitting celebration of what once was a very eerie holiday.