If you didn’t know by now, I have a massive obsession with Halloween. It’s my absolute favorite holiday, and I’m always so sad that it’s only one day. I saw this historical idea over on Books Nest, and since the history of Halloween is really fascinating, I decided to make a blogpost about it!
The history of Halloween is said to have started with the ancient Gaelic festival Samhain, which is a festival that celebrates the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was mostly celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. This day was seen as a liminal time, which meant that the veil between this world and the underworld was at its thinnest. Spirits could therefore more easily cross to our world, and the people believed that if you appeased these spirits during Samhain would basically leave you alone.
By the 12th century, Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve had a bunch of Christian influences in them. Christians would dress in all black and ring the church bells for the souls in purgatory.
Starting in the 16th century, people started dressing up as spirits and go door-to-door in order to get food. It was believed that dressing up like the spirits would also protect you from them. If the household donated food, they would encounter fortune. If not, they would encounter misfortune. So basically this was medieval trick or treat.
Spread to the United States
Halloween didn’t start catching on in the United States until the late 19th and early 20th century. Before that, only southern Anglicans and Catholics in the north recognized All Hallow’s Eve in their church calendars. It wasn’t until the mass Irish migration in the 18th and 19th century that Halloween started spreading in the United States. At first it was only confined to these immigrant societies, but gradually Halloween started catching on and by the 1920s it was celebrated coast to coast!
Another fun fact is that in Ireland, they used to use turnips as jack-o-lanterns. In the United States, this became the pumpkin we know and love today.