The Original Story of Halloween Part Two: Hallowevolution
We know that Halloween started as the Celtic festival of Samhain at least 500 years BC. It was a harvest night when spirits could walk the Earth. How did Halloween get from there to here? Around 100 BC, the Romans began conquering many Celtic lands. They absorbed many Celtic beliefs into their culture; just as earlier they had absorbed the Greek gods into their culture. The Romans added their own goddess: Pomona. Pomona was the Roman goddess of orchards and apples. She was added to the harvest rituals. Druids used apples to foretell your true love. Even today, on Halloween people still go bobbing for apples!
The Romans conquered nearly all the Celtic lands, including what today are France and Britain. Christianity was illegal for Romans and Christians were used as lion-bait for entertainment at the Roman games. But just after the year 300 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. He made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
As Christianity spread through Europe, the Pope declared All Saint's Day November 1st. Samhain was overwritten by Christians as All Hallow's Eve: did you know Halloween is short for Hallowed Evening? Spirits could walk the earth for one last blast before All Saint's Day. Then it was a time to remember the Saints and to pray for souls in purgatory. People would dress in black and bake soul-cakes and share them as blessings: does this sound a little like trick-or-treating?
In the 1600's, America was settled by the Puritans, a very strict form of Christianity. The Puritans did not do any celebrations for Halloween. They believed in witchcraft, and wanted to stamp it out. They wanted to stamp it out so badly that they became obsessed with witches. They burned a lot of women in bonfires as witches. The Puritans accidentally gave us one of the main characters of Halloween! Ever notice how the American Halloween witch is dressed in black like a Puritan?
America was also settled by many Scottish and Irish people: the descendants of the Celtic people. They still had some traditions of Samhain and All Hallow's Eve, including carving turnips. Americans had great big pumpkins and liked to carve them, and in the new world we got the modern Jack O'Lantern. Notice the O'? That's Irish! The light on your doorstep is to welcome trick-or-treaters – and the scary face is to frighten evil spirits away!
Halloween has been growing as a holiday for Christians and non-Christians alike ever since. Trick or Treating was put on hold during World War 2 when food was rationed, and in the 1950's the United Nations started Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Basically, we have kept updating the ideas of dressing up as spirits, making bonfires, making lamps from vegetables, and going door to door for blessings, for over 2,000 years. Now that's what you call Hallowevolution! Happy Halloween!