Halloween's origin is traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The holiday marked the end of summer, celebrated the harvest and signified the beginning of the dark, cold winter. Celts believed that on the night before Samhain (our Halloween) the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. They feared that the dead could cause trouble and damage crops. Because the success of their crops was a life or death situation, they took the holiday very seriously. During the celebration the Celts put out their hearth fire in their primitive homes, wore costumes (typically consisting of animal heads and skins), and attempted to tell each other's fortunes while gathering around a sacred community bonfire. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire and believed that it would help protect them during the coming winter. Typically after relighting their hearth fire, it remained lit from the sacred flame throughout the winter until Spring and warmer weather returned.
The holiday made its first major transition when Catholics converted many of the Celts to their religion. Celebrations were created that allowed the Celts to continue to have festivities during the times of their old holidays. In transitioning these holidays every attempt was made to remove Celtic religion from the celebrations, but some traditions (such as dressing in costumes) stuck. Catholics and Christians alike had often celebrated martyrs and saints on or around the day of their passing. During the time that many Celts were being converted to Catholicism, All Saints Day (the day on which Catholics celebrate all the saints) was created. Because it was a day to honor the dead it was an easier transition for the Celts embracing a new faith.
As All Saints Day (Hallows Eve) developed, the poor would go door to door and accept food in exchange for prayers for the dead. During the Victorian era, adults often considered themselves too wise to believe in ghosts walking the earth but allowed children to celebrate. Children began to go door to door dressed in disguises. The term “Trick or Treat” dates back to the early 1900’s when the children began to use trickery to get back at those not participating in the event. That same phrase will be used by hundreds of thousands of children tonight.
So, armed with buckets of candy at the front door I happily wait for evening. The kids will come in their costumes, some having planned for weeks or even months. The doorbell will ring dozens of times and ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and cute little fairy princesses will rule the night. Happy Halloween. Stay safe!