With Halloween’s increasing popularity worldwide, we look back at the holiday’s origin in the Celtic festival of the harvest and end of summer, Samhain.
Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, has deep roots in pagan traditions. Originally celebrated as Samhain in Ireland and Britain, the holiday has influences from many different places. When it began, Samhain was a Celtic festival to celebrate the harvest and summer’s end; on October 31, souls of those who had departed would come back and visit their home. Now in Ireland, Halloween is celebrated as a national holiday. The festivities include fireworks and a week’s vacation from school for the kids.
The original Gaelic celebrants did not see anything unpleasant or spooky about celebrating the end of a season and getting visits from ghosts, unless those ghosts might wreak havoc on crops and spread sickness in the home. Samhain was part of the pagan cycle of life, a time when they laid up stores of supplies and prepared themselves for the winter season. However, over time, Halloween has become drenched in the supernatural, far beyond just the souls of the departed paying a visit home to wreck some crops and make their families ill.
Most of the more common Halloween accessories also have pagan roots, including the jack-o’-lantern. According to the legend of “Irish Jack,” a stingy and drunken man (named Jack, of course) tricked the devil and ended up wandering for eternity with a turnip holding an ember to light his way. Halloween costumes are said to stem from Celts wearing ghoulish disguises to trick wandering spirits into leaving them alone.
Halloween is growing in popularity, pagan roots or not. Trick-or-treating is starting to spring up in new places, including parts of Saudi Arabia and Europe. In some parts of the UK, the police have even threatened prosecution for parents whose offspring actually follow through on the “trick” part of “trick-or-treating.”