The Spooktacular History of Halloween
The Origins of Halloween
Although it only became popular in America in the early 1900's, Halloween dates back almost 2,000 years when it marked the Celtic New Year. Originally known as Samhain, which means "summer's end" in Gaelic, many Halloween customs and traditions have roots in pagan beliefs and Irish folklore. These customs became popular in America when many Irish fled their country to escape the potato famine of 1846.
Jack o' Lanterns
The Celtics believed that placing Jack o' Lanterns outside helped guide lost souls home as they wandered the streets during Samhain. The scary carved faced on each also served to scare evil spirits away. When the potato famine forced many families to flee to America they began using pumpkins as a substitute since they were much easier to come by.
Trick-or-Treating in Costumes
Since Samhain marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one, the Celtics believed the past and the present were closely linked during this time, allowing the lines between the living and dead to be blurred and the spirits of the deceased to mingle with the living. They believed that visiting ghosts would disguise themselves in human form and knock on doors asking for money or food. If they were turned away empty-handed, the homeowner risked angering the spirit and being cursed or haunted. Another Celtic myth was that dressing up as a ghoul or ghost would fool any evil spirits so that the spirits would not try to take their soul.
Black Cats and Broomsticks
The black cat's bad reputation dates back to the Dark Ages, when elderly single women were often accused of witchcraft and their pet cats were thought to be a witch's "familiars," or demonic animals that had been given to them by the devil. These old women were also usually poor, and therefore could not afford horses for traveling. They walked the woods by foot with the help of a stick or, sometimes, a broom.
Orange and Black
These colors were used by the pagans as they celebrated harvest. Orange symbolized the vibrant colors of their crops, while black stood for the death of summer.