By: J. Pastore
Halloween is highly regarded as one of the most celebrated holidays, yet many don’t know the intricate story behind it. We all know it takes place on the 31st of October, but why specifically do we celebrate it at October’s end?
Let’s start at the beginning. Once recognized as a religiously symbolic holiday and now merely an emblem of pumpkin carving and trick or treating, Halloween traces back to its thousand-year-old origin at the Celtic festival of Samhain. On the day of November 1, the souls of the dead were believed to return to their homes, and the populace would dress in costumes to ward off these spiritual entities. Through this, the tradition of wearing costumes associated with goblins, zombies, ghosts, and witches was perpetuated. It was also popularly believed that the boundary between our world and the spiritual world became unusually thin, thus enabling communication between the living and the dead. The Celts were commonly known as being polytheistic, the belief in worshiping more than one God, in multiple deities, and it is for this reason that there are a myriad of early pagan holidays and ritualistic ceremonies.
Moving forth to the 7th century CE, Pope Boniface came through with the creation of All Saints Day, a religious Christian holiday to be celebrated originally on May 13th, but which was later passed on to November 1st via Pope Gregory the 3rd (maybe referencing to the holiday of Samhain). The day before All Saint's Day, October 31st, was the day in which the evening mass was held: All Hallows Eve - Hallow meaning “holy” or “saint” (as a noun). Despite its pagan inception, Pope Gregory the 4th officiallyized the celebration of All Saint’s Day in the universal Christian Calendar a century after Pope Gregory the 3rd changed the holiday from May 13th to November 1st. Furthermore, the only remnants of the Celtic communities at the origin of Samhain are numbered artifacts, not any written records.
The origins of the holiday, though very limited in its artifacts and having almost no written records, were first reported in the Celtic regions in Ireland, where it quickly spread to the countries of France and the United Kingdom shortly after. Irish immigrants fleeing after the events of the potato famine were custodians for the spread of Halloween in the 19th century and later in the 1800s, fall festivals in Southern colonies in the United States enjoyed the seasonal harvest that embodied Halloween traditions.
As of the 21st century, Halloween is a global phenomenon and a universally celebrated holiday. By the conventions of the ancient pagan colonies, perpetuated through religious and then cultural communities and ideologies, its traditions live vicariously through us, believers, and celebrators.