What's Behind the History of Halloween?

Google Questions

Vancouver Observer

It's sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, sometimes strange...but without a doubt, the Halloween candies always taste good.

Behind all the costumes, candies and pumpkins, there lies the strange story of Halloween...

A long time ago, Halloween was merely a celebration to symbolize the transition between the warm season to the cold season.  During this dark night, it was thought that all the dead, ghosts and ghouls, and the spirits of the night, would come back on the earth in order to haunt the living.  In 840AD, Pope Gregoire IV decided to establish the "the Day of the Dead" which was also known as, All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween).

One of the traditions which was started was the concept of the Jack o'lantern. To commemorate the legend ofthe Jack o’ lantern, who was said to be the man who gave his soul to the devil and doomed to walk in hell with a lantern, people from all around the world, would put a candle inside of a turnip. Many years later, the turnip was replaced by the pumpkin, because it was much easlier to hollow out....


...Lookups on "what is the history of Halloween" rose 220% on Yahoo!. Spooky searches for "the haunted history of Halloween" and "the true history of Halloween" were also scary-high.

Turns out, the modern-day tradition of outfitting yourself in a costume and going door to door for candy has some really ancient roots.

Originally, the festival came from the Celtic holiday Samhain, which means summer's end, and celebrated the end of fall and the beginning of winter. This day also marked the Celts' version of the new year — and the time, they believed, when the dead came back to roam the earth. (Insert spooky music here.)

Ancestors were honored, but evil spirits were warded off by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to hide from them. Turnips carved with faces got placed in windows to scare off the unwelcome undead. People would go "a-souling," and in exchange for food and drink, pray for a household's dead relatives. In Scotland, spirits were impersonated by men wearing all white with veiled faces. Sound familiar?

The holiday is actually a mash of Catholic and Celtic beliefs. Oh, and Roman. Their version of the Celtic holiday was called Feralia, which honored their dead. The Catholics — who were beginning to influence the area by the 800s — contributed All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas. The name "Halloween" comes from the Scottish "All-Hallows-Even," meaning "the night before All Hallows Day."...

Samira Kawash in The Atlantic

Wherever you turn this October, candy beckons. Americans will spend an estimated $2 billion on candy during the Halloween season this year, and here's a fun fact from the California Milk Processors Board: "an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar."

Phew. My molars are hurting just thinking about it. If treats are a temptation you hope to avoid, October is the cruelest month. And I can think of only one place in America where your Halloween composure is unlikely to be ruffled by endless quantities of cheap and glittering candies: the past.

Given the ubiquity of candy at this time of year, it is hard to imagine that 100 years ago, Halloween looked quite different from the candy debauch of today....

Thumbnail Image:  "Balle-à-leunettes 10" by Man vi.  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons