Haunted history

Modern Halloween traditions date back hundreds of years

The evolution of Halloween from a day of religious observances to today’s modern traditions has taken decades.

According to history-of-halloween.net, Halloween was originally celebrated by the Celts nearly 2,000 years ago; they referred to the day as Samhain, which fell on Nov. 1. Samhain was the end of summer and of the harvest period, and was the start of winter.

The cold and dreary winters made the Celts believe this season was associated with death. They thought the boundary between those living and dead was distorted on the night before Samhain.

Every Samhain, the Celts burned crops in fires built by Celtic priests and sacrificed animals to Celtic gods. Costumes made of animal skins and heads were worn because the Celts believed the ghosts that came out on the night of Samhain would have difficulty recognizing them.

Around 800 A.D., Christian influence began to make its way into the Celtic region of Europe. Pope Boniface IV declared Nov. 1 as All Saint’s Day; this was a day meant to honor saints and martyrs. The day was also referred to as All-hallows or All-Hallowmas; over time, the night before this celebration became known as All-hallows Eve and later became what is used today: Halloween.

As immigrants began arriving in America, they brought with them various Halloween customs. These customs began to mesh with traditions of Native Americans. The first Halloween celebrations in America began as public events to celebrate the fall’s harvest.

Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine started to arrive in America in the mid-1800s. People combined different ethnic traditions and began dressing up and going door-to-door asking for food or money. This has now become known as today’s popular activity of trick-or-treating. Americans began to put less focus on witchcraft and religion and more on making the day a community event.

Trick-or-treating grew increasingly popular during the early 1900s. Today, an estimated $6.9 billion dollars is spent by Americans every Halloween season.

Carving pumpkins is another popular tradition that has Celtic roots. Originally, turnips were used. As legend goes, a man named Jack tricked the devil. After Jack died, he was denied entrance into heaven because of his trickery, but was also denied entrance into Hell because the devil was angry with him. Satan gave Jack an ember to light his way through eternal winter; Jack put the ember into a hollowed turnip so it would stay lit longer in the wintry winds.

As the Irish began immigrating to America, they brought this tale with them. Since pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips, the Irish began carving pumpkins instead. This is how the Jack-o-lantern came about.

The tradition of carving pumpkins is a beloved festivity for many families. While the pumpkin itself serves as decoration, the inside of the pumpkin can be used as well.

“Every year, my family and I remove the insides of the pumpkins we are carving,” said Heidi Kaltenthaler, sophomore in the pre-nursing program. “We add a little bit of salt and butter to the pumpkin seeds and bake them. They are a delicious Halloween snack.”

Halloween continues to be a holiday of both mischief and trickery along with fun and delicious candy. n