The Real Story of Halloween and Why It Is the “Dark Half” of the Year

We know Halloween as the spookiest time of the year. It is celebrated every October 31st, during which people tend to dress up in various costumes and participate in traditions such as trick-or-treating. However, not many are truly aware of the darker origins of Halloween and All Saints Day. While we mostly celebrate it today by carving pumpkins, eating sweets, and having feasts with our family, there are many older traditions that have been lost to time.

Are you curious about how this beloved holiday transformed from an ancient celebration to what we know of it today? Before you make investments in your costume, here’s the real story behind Halloween.

Samhain and Celtic Harvest Festivals

We can trace the origins of Halloween all the way back to Samhain, which is a Celtic festival celebrated by the ancient Celts over 2,000 years ago. Their territory covered what is now known as Ireland, as well as parts of the United Kingdom, and the northern areas of France. For the Celts, Samhain was celebrated every changing of the year on November 1st.

According to their beliefs, this day is the marker for summer’s end and the beginning of the darker days of winter. Due to the conditions back then such as the looming threat of illness and the degree of famine associated with the season, these “dark days” are commonly associated with death.

The Celts also believed that during this period, the veil that separates the living world from the land of the souls become much thinner. In such a way, the spirits are said to be able to return and walk among those who are alive. Even today, certain cultures still believe this.

The Origins of All Saints’ Day

Changes began to happen by the 9th century, following the spread of Christianity even in Celtic lands. Many of Christianity’s tradition eventually became incorporated with the ancients’ rites, ultimately blurring the line between the two. It was also in 1000 A.D. that the church officially proclaimed November 2nd as All Souls’ Day, which is an investment in the memory of those who have passed on.

There are many theories as to why they had done this, with many believing that the church simply wanted to completely replace old “Pagan” festivals with church-appropriated holidays. While we may never know the truth behind this, what they did eventually became the accepted fact for many.

All Souls’ Day isn’t really that different to Samhain. Back then, people would create huge bonfires and dress up in various costumes, portraying figures such as angels, devils, and even saints. They also had parades and celebrated All-Hallows Eve the night before. This is what we eventually came to know as Halloween.

Modern Halloween Practices

So, who do we credit for all these modern practices and tradition come from? We have colonial New England to thank for that. In the beginning, their celebrations were restricted because the dominant belief in the colonies were Protestant. However, as cultures mixed and customs between the Europeans and American Indians continued to be shared, there emerged a very American version of the old Halloween traditions.

Among these were the parties that were held to celebrate the bountiful harvests. It was also during this period that the custom of sharing scary stories first began. Neighbors would regale each other about their “experiences” with the supernatural, while there were also those who saw this as the best time to tell people’s fortunes; should they start money management, or will it be a bountiful year?

The tradition of dressing up in costumes is particularly Euro-centric in nature. They did this to go from house to house, asking for food or money. This is the originsof what we know today as trick or treat. As you might expect, mischief was also abound during this holiday with many pranksters out to scare their neighbors who were having get-togethers.

During the late 1800s, all through the turn of the century, Halloween became a holiday that’s more catered towards children instead of adults.

Halloween’s Many Superstitions

While Halloween has undergone an extensive degree of change over the centuries, there are certain beliefs that remain the same. You’d be surprised at the number of people who still believe in superstitions surrounding this particular holiday. For example, many would avoid cross paths with a black cat during this season out of fear that it would bring them bad luck. This is rooted in a Middle Age belief that witches could turn themselves into black cats.

The same goes for avoiding mirrors, spilling salt, and stepping on cracks during Halloween. It’s a little harder to trace the origins of this one, but many would rather play it safe instead of having the roofing fall on their heads due to a spell of bad luck!