And Now You Know: Halloween History

How did we come to observe Halloween? There are several explanations for the existence of the holiday, but here is one plausibility.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Celts of Ireland and all over Europe considered a day corresponding to November 1 the beginning of their calendar year. On November 1, they held a feast called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). Samhain was the most important holiday of the Celtic year.

The Celts believed that ghosts, demons, fairies, and the souls of the dead mingled with the living  on Samhain. To protect themselves from unkind spirits, they left out sweets for the spirits to eat and disguised themselves in scary masks to trick the spirits.

The púca is a fairy of Irish folklore, able to change form and commonly taking the form of a yellow eyed horse.

The púca is a fairy of Irish folklore, able to change form and commonly taking the form of a yellow eyed horse.

As centuries passed, people from around the world added their own twist to Samhain. Catholic missionaries in Ireland promoted Samhain as a day to honor dead saints and called the day All Saints’ Day or All Hallows. The night before All Hallows became All Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Halloween wasn’t popular in America until millions of Irish immigrants came to America in the 1800s, many of them fleeing Ireland’s potato famine. Americans began to dress in costumes and go from house to house asking for food or money, and by the late 1800s, there was a movement to make Halloween into a holiday about community rather than about ghosts, demons, and witchcraft. As a result, Halloween lost much of its supernatural and religious connotations by the turn of the century.

Cramped and overcrowded conditions on ships that sailed from Ireland to America caused so many deaths that the ships were called "coffin ships."

So many died in the cramped and overcrowded conditions of ships that sailed from Ireland to America that the ships were called “coffin ships.”

Today, Halloween is a huge consumer holiday in America. In 2012, Americans spent $8 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and other related items. $8 billion! This year, the National Retail Federation predicts that the average American will spend $77.52 in honor of Halloween.

Want to learn more? Check out one of our excellent titles on the history of the holiday.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s