Halloween Past

Sarah Y., Editor

Halloween has been a holiday that people have participated in for centuries. The beginning of Halloween goes back almost 2,000 years ago to the Celts living in modern day Ireland, France and the United Kingdom. The beginning of their harvest, autumnal season and new year was November 1. The Celts believed that a day before their new year (October 31) the wall between the living and the dead would be taken down, and the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead would become blurred.

They called the holiday Samhain. It was believed that on Samhain that the ghosts of the dead would come back to haunt the earth. Not only did those ghosts cause trouble with the Celt’s crops and livelihood, but the Celts also believed that Celtic priests (also known as Druids) would be able to make better predictions for the future by using the otherworldly spirits. They would build bonfires in order to burn animals and crops as sacrifices to the ghosts/spirits. The Celts would adorn themselves in different costumes so they could attempt to read the fortunes of their neighbors.

In 43 A.D. the Roman Empire had captured and ruled over the Celtic lands. The Roman Empire began to adopt some of the lifestyles and holidays of the Celtic people including Samhain. They first changed the day to Feralia, a day in order to remember those who had passed on. Then, they changed it to a day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.

Almost 600-years later, Pope Boniface IV created a holiday called All Martyrs Day or All Saints Day. Later Pope Gregory III moved the holiday from May 13 to November 1. The Catholic church would then go on to make November 2 All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. It is believed that the church was attempting to overshadow the previous Pagan holiday with a more Christian and godly approach.  The holidays after Samhain were celebrated in the same sort of manner as the former. The people would lit bonfires in order to honor those who had died. Later the holiday of All Souls’ Day and All Saints Day was changed to All-Hallow. Samhain was then renamed All-Hallows Eve, and then it was later changed to Halloween.

When the Protestants came to America in the 16th century, Halloween was not a common holiday to celebrate due to the strict religious rules. The holiday was much more common in the southern colonies. It was not until years later when many different cultural backgrounds began to mesh that the holiday similar to the one we celebrate today arose.


To read more about Halloween and how it is celebrated from the late 17th century to the present day Halloween, please read “Halloween Present” located on the features page of the Panorama.