Although most of the world will participate in Halloween this Friday in one way or another, the amount of people that actually know why they are celebrating is miniscule.
The celebration of Halloween dates back to an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. On Oct. 31, Samhain assembled the souls of all those who had died during the previous year. To pay for their sins, these souls were put into the bodies of animals.
People thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. This is where the tradition of dressing up originated.
In Rome, a festival honoring the goddess of Pomona was also held around Nov. 1. Pomona was the mistress of fruits and gardens.
To thank Pamona for good harvests, the Romans laid apples and nuts in her honor. Then they played various games, held races and celebrated throughout the day and night.
When the Romans conquered the Celtic people in what we now know as France, they brought their customs with them. Soon the Roman festival honoring Pomona and the Celtic Vigil of Samhain were both held at the time now known as Halloween.
Later, during the Middle Ages, witchcraft emerged as an organized cult opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.
Halloween became known as the Night of the Witch, and according to superstition, the devil and his followers would gather. They would mock the coming of the Church’s festival of All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 by performing unholy acts.The present tradition of “trick-or-treating” dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England.
During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The practice was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food and money.
Halloween migrated to America with European immigrants and continued to evolve to what it is today.
Now Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.