The origins of Halloween

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Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a pagan religious celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that during Samhain, the boundary between the living and the dead was particularly thin, allowing spirits to walk the Earth. The name "Halloween" traces back to medieval Christianity. The word "hallow" is derived from the Middle and Old English words for holy. In those days, the Christian holiday known as All Saints' Day was called All Hallows' Day, and the day before, when an evening mass was held, was All Hallows' Eve. That name eventually got shortened to Halloween. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor saints. Soon after, All Saints Day came to incorporate some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween. Many of the traditions associated with Halloween have their origins in these ancient celebrations. For example, the tradition of carving Jack-o’-Lanterns originated in Ireland, where turnips were used instead of pumpkins. This tradition is based on a legend about a man named Stingy Jack who trapped the Devil and was forced to wander the Earth as a ghost for eternity. The Devil gave Jack a burning lump of coal in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Locals eventually began carving scary faces into their own turnips to frighten away evil spirits. The tradition of wearing scary costumes also has its roots in the Samhain festival. The Celts wore disguises to avoid being mistaken for spirits and left alone. The tradition of trick-or-treating has several theories of origin, one of which suggests that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave food out to appease the spirits traveling the Earth at night. Over time, people began to dress as these unearthly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink. The tradition of bobbing for apples traces back to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. When the Romans conquered the British Isles in 43 AD, the Pomona festival blended with the similarly timed Samhain, a precursor to Halloween. Halloween was not widely celebrated in America until the second half of the 19th century when Irish and Scottish immigrants began to arrive in greater numbers. These immigrants brought many Halloween customs with them, and by the early 20th century, Halloween was celebrated across North America.
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