All Hallows Eve or widely known as Halloween is both a celebration and a superstition. Spanning between autumn and winter, this observance in the Christian Calendar is also considered as All Saint’s Day. There are different ways to commemorate Halloween including fasting and prayers before the feast day, wearing spooky costumes, lighting bonfires and celebration of trick or treat. These celebrations vary in style and place, but all of which can be traced with almost the same history thousands of years ago.
The name ‘Halloween’ derives from the word ‘hallowed’ which means holy or sanctified. But the origin of All Hallows Eve can be outlined with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhainー the time when it is presumed that the ghost of the dead returns to the earth. Living 2, 000 years ago, the Celts who resided in what is now Europe, celebrated this festival every November 1 also to mark the end of summer and welcome the dark and cold winterー the season which could be plainly associated with death. The Celts believed that there is a collision of the boundary between the living and the dead that will occur on the eve of the traditional new year. And on that time, all beingsー fairies, ghosts, spirits, and demons, travel into the otherworld to be all part of the season of dark and dread.
On the night of October 31, they observed the Samhain by wearing costumes made of animal skins and heads. They built and light bonfires, and people would gather around to burn the animals, vegetables and crops as sacrifices to the Celtic immortals and to fend off wandering spirits. During the celebration, the locals would tell each other’s fortunes as they believed that otherworldly spirits help in making predictions about the future. These predestinations are largely important to the ancient people to create comfort and command, especially during the long winter nights. After the festival, they would re-lit the hearth fires from the sacred bonfires to protect them all throughout the winter season.
The Roman Empire had a great impact in the progress of the Halloween celebration because they conquered majority of the Celtic regions during 43 A.D. The Romans ruled over the Celtic territories for over 400 years, creating new ways of commemorating the ancient Samhain. There were actually two Roman festivals that were combined with the traditional Celtic celebrationー the Feralia and the Pomona. The first one is observed during late October when the Romans customarily celebrate the passing of the dead. The second is the day to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. The symbol of Pomona is apple, which probably explains the tradition of the apple bobbing game usually played during Halloween.
For others with entirely different views, particularly the Christian viewpoint, Halloween began independently as a distinct Christian celebration. During the early period of the first millennium A.D., the Christian missionaries were at large to change the practices of the Celts, and that include the celebration of Samhain. Notable missionaries like St. Columcille and St. Patrick successfully converted the many locals to Christianity and eventually wiped out pagan festivals like Samhain. The changes continued over the course of centuries, but even after adjustments it still incorporated some of the religious traditions of the Celtic people.
During the 6th century, Pope Boniface IV committed the popular Pantheon in Rome, which is a former temple of the gods, to honor Saint Mary and the Christian martyrs. From then, November 1 became All Saints’ Day under the proclamation of Pope Urban IV. The actual commemoration to honor the saints and the martyrs was further intensified by Pope Gregory III during the early 8th century as he dedicated the renowned St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in honor of all the saints. He then made November 1 as a universal festival of the Western church dedicated for the saints and martyrs. Pope Gregory became a distinguished individual because of his principles concerning the traditional customs of the ancient people. Instead of demolishing the native beliefs and festival, he advised the missionaries to allow the people to continue their traditions but also instill Christ into each tradition. This fascinating concept of converting the people became the standard approach of the Christian missionaries and was widely appreciated by the early people as they can still continue with their traditions, though in a different manner. Later in 1000 A.D., the church expanded the observance of the dead by making November 2 as All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. It is believed that this celebration was created to relatively substitute the Celtic celebration with a commemoration that is a church-approved holiday. The celebration of All Souls’ Day is marked similarly with the native traditions of the Samhain.
Today, All Saint’s Day is celebrated all around the world every November 1, and the night before such is the traditional night of the ancient Samhain, which is fondly called as All Hallows Eve and soon, Halloween.
Over the years, the celebration of Halloween is still associated with mystery and magic. Just like the ancient Celts, people would offer food to the departed spirits and lit candles to help the deceased find their way back to the other world. Some superstitions also include the fear of crossing paths with black cats as it means bad luck. This belief can be traced back in the middle ages, when many locals believed that witches usually turn themselves into cats to avoid getting caught. Around Halloween, other superstitions like breaking mirrors, spilling salt or stepping on road cracks are fairly unsafe. There are also different Halloween activities that have been passed down from generation to generation such as trick or treat, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, divination games, apple bobbing, and more. Religious observances like attending church services and lighting candles on the grave are also very popular. All these Halloween superstitions and beliefs are all associated with the past traditions, which are nearly felt by every Celt thousands of years ago.