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.
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.
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.