Celebrated on October 31st every year, Halloween has become one of the biggest holidays in the world. But, how did the holiday originate? Why does everyone dress up and carve pumpkins among other festive activities? Let’s dig into Halloween’s traditions and history!
Origins Of Halloween
As a holiday, Halloween has a very complex history, which differs depending on the location. Interestingly enough, some Halloween traditions vary in the U.S. and Europe, too! The main tradition of celebrating on the 31st of October, though, started during the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. There, people wanted to scare off ghosts, so, they wore different costumes and lit bonfires. Later, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III planned November 1 as a day to honor all saints, the traditions of which were quite similar to Samhain. The evening prior to that holiday was called All Hallows Eve, and that name naturally transformed into Halloween. Let’s all agree that it sounds a lot better and is easier to remember!
When it comes to Halloween traditions in the U.S., they're mostly a mix of customs from European ethnic groups and Native American history. When first celebrated, Americans created "play parties," which were mainly focused on a successful harvest. The cozy evening was full of scary storytelling about the dead, telling fortunes, dancing, and singing. After that, celebrating Halloween became more and more popular toward the end of the 19th century.
Dressing Up In Costumes And Trick-Or-Treating
How did we come to dress up in spooky costumes, then? Well, in the second half of the 19th century, America was welcoming a lot of new immigrants, including the Irish. Since Halloween traditions were more known outside the U.S., those millions of people from abroad helped to establish the holiday nationally. Moreover, the government found a new goal — making those cozy nights all about families and community. That’s when different families began gathering to dress up, play games, cook, and eat food. Adorned in frightening costumes, kids would go from door to door asking for sweet treats, which inevitably became the trick-or-treat tradition we know today.
Admittedly, the latter was borrowed from the Middle Ages. Back then, poor people used to collect “soul cakes” from the wealthy in exchange for prayers for the dead. But all those old traditions were no longer about superstitions or religion at the beginning of the 20th century.
Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?
What about pumpkin carving? Well, you’ve probably seen those horrifying pictures of carved turnips claiming to be old-school jack-o-lanterns. The truth is… this tradition came to America with the Irish immigrants, who used to collect large turnips, potatoes, and beets to then hollow them out. Afterward, they'd carve demon faces into them in hopes of scaring away spirits. Candles and coals resided inside. Thankfully, we turned to pumpkins because they're way easier to carve out. Those turnips would scare even the living away with their tough skin!
The name jack-o-lantern originated in Britain around the 17th century. Men with lanterns who kept the peace took on that name, as the British called any unknown men "Jack." “Jack with the lantern” or “Jack of the lantern” were common names used for the carved pumpkins and were mostly found in Irish folklore.