Today is Halloween!!! But despite the day being only on October 31, this date changes the entire month of October in the US, bringing skulls, pumpkins, monsters and witches to our daily lives.
And do you know the story of this day? Why do these symbols represent you so much? Plus, what do witches have to do with it?
But first, a little bit of history never hurt and this story is full of fun facts and frightening details…
SAMHAIN and other influences in antiquity
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Most scholars agree that Halloween is a very old tradition. About 2000 years ago, the Celts, who lived between Ireland, the United Kingdom and the north of France, celebrated the beginning of a new year in a festival called Samhain (pronounced saa-wn, or SÁUEN) that took place in the November 1st.
The day marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of dark, cold winter, a time associated with death. There was a belief that on the night of the turn of the year, October 31, the veil between the world of the living and the spirit world became thinner. That would be the day when the souls of those who died the year before would make the passage to the spirit world. This facilitated communication between the two worlds and even made it possible for ghosts to visit Earth.
They believed that these souls when passing through the land played games and mischief with the living, so the living, to protect themselves, made offerings of their crops and hunts. But on the same night, people also played pranks, knowing they could blame the spirits. They dressed up as monsters and magical creatures to mingle with the creatures of the night and eventually enjoy the goodies offered.
Another Celtic custom was to keep a fire burning to keep the channels of communication open at night, and in them to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the spirits and deities.
There are other explanations for the bonfire, some believe it was a way to honor the sun god so that they could return after winter, others that it would be a kind of walkway for their dead loved ones to pass without getting lost.
They used the flames of the celebration bonfires to light the fireplaces in their homes in order for the sacred bonfire to protect them during the long and harsh winter.
These bonfires probably originated the origin of bats in the Halloween tradition. The bonfires of the Druids’ Samhain attracted insects which, in turn, attracted the bats for a tasty meal. In later years, various folklore emerged citing bats as harbingers of death or doom. In Nova Scotia mythology, a bat settling in a house means that a male in the family will die. If he flies off and tries to escape, a woman in the family will die. 😳
From the conquest of Celtic territory by the Roman Empire in 43 AD, a period of 400 years of rule began that inevitably culminated in the fusion of some traditions. Samhain was combined with two autumn festivals: Feralia and Pomona.
Feralia took place at the end of October in order to honor the dead. The party of Pomona, goddess of fruits and trees, whose symbol is an apple, may have brought the custom of playing with apples on Halloween.
Various Christian popes throughout the ages have tried to replace “pagan” holidays like Samhain with holidays that represent their religious practices. In AD 1000, the church made November 2nd All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead and replace the Celtic date. All Saints’ Day has been set for November 1st.
Contrary to the church, the celebration of Samhain continued on the eve, on October 31st, and was renamed ALL-HALLOWS-EVE, all = all, hallows = saints, eve = eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day , which would turn into the word HALLOWEEN eventually.
Despite the new religious focus, this time of year continued to be associated with visiting the dead who wandered between the two worlds in England and Ireland and people distributed food to hungry spirits.
The costumes were used for people to confuse themselves with the spirits and beings of the forest (Celts believed in fairies, elves and magical beings) and not be bothered by them. The practice also allowed “disguised” humans to take the goodies intended for the spirits. Any resemblance to the trick or treat custom ?
HALLOWEEN in America
The first Halloween-like festivities in America emerged predominantly in the southern colonies. In New England it was frowned upon because of the region’s religious traditions.
However, as the USA is a plural country both in ethnicity and in customs, traditions, parties and beliefs were mixed and adapted to become the Halloween we know today.
The first celebrations were called “play parties” (or ” play parties”), public events held for the population to celebrate the harvest, exchange ghost stories, sing, dance and even “tell” each other’s fortunes.
Until the mid-19th century, although common, autumn festivals were not celebrated nationally. But the wave of immigrants that came in the middle of the century, including many Irish, who still celebrated Celtic traditions, helped to bolster and popularize Halloween across the country.
Newcomers brought their own superstitions and customs, such as the jack-o-lantern, which was carved from turnips, potatoes, and beets. Arriving here, due to the abundance of pumpkins in the period, they replaced the vegetable.
Appropriating European customs, the US population began to wear costumes and go from house to house asking for food or money. Trick or treat?
Towards the end of the century, part of the population strove to make Halloween a holiday more about community and neighborhood get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft.
Parents were encouraged to remove the frightening connotation of the celebrations, and over the course of the changes, the date lost its religious and superstitious meaning.
The halloween today
Treats or treats soared in popularity in the 1950s, at the time of the baby boom. Halloween events were brought into the classrooms and home to better serve the children, who became the main audience.
Trick or treat was a relatively inexpensive way for the community to share in the celebration, and to prevent pranks from being played by offering small treats to neighborhood children.
Today, more than 179 million Americans celebrate the holiday — and spend an estimated $9.1 billion on Halloween each year, according to the National Retail Federation, making it the second-largest commercial holiday in the country after Christmas.
Fun fact: a quarter of all candy sold annually in the US is purchased for Halloween.
Why is Salem so famous on Halloween?
Salem, Massachusetts was made famous by the witch trials of 1692, when in just three months 19 innocent people, 14 women and 5 men, were hanged and one man was pressed to death. It was a time of hysteria, when the courts believed in the devil, in spectral evidence, and in the dangers of teenage girls.
The trials ceased when Governor William Phipps dissolved the court, after his wife was accused of being a witch. A High Court was formed to replace what was in effect and did not allow spectral evidence.
The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution; the trials are over.
Over the centuries the city has appropriated the history and expanded it, creating hair-raising legends and stories of witches. The entertainment industry also helped maintain the myth with movies and books on the subject. Today the city is visited by tourists from all over the world, mainly in the months of October and Halloween.
Is Halloween a holiday?
Despite changing the entire routine of US residents for a month, Halloween is not an official holiday. For most commercial establishments it is a business day like any other.
By the way, not just any day, there are companies that encourage the use of costumes on the day and do special activities to celebrate Halloween.