Friday, March 4, 2011

History of Halloween dates back to Ireland 2,000 years ago (From the Archives)

By Francesca Chilargi
Staff Writer

WWW, 2006 (Archived) - Each year, millions of children and adults happily play dress-up and go trick-or-treating for candy on Halloween. Halloween is the second most celebrated holiday, Christmas being the most celebrated, which rakes in $6 billion annually. But where did this annual celebration originate? Is it a celebration of devil worship?

One student from India said Halloween doesn’t exist in his country, but he thinks Americans celebrate Halloween as part of a new start.

“It’s [Halloween] getting rid of your bad elements and starting a new cycle,” said Sudarsan Desikan, 27, a manufacturing engineering major.
However, in India, they have their own festivals to acknowledge farmers who work year-round and each festival has its history and story, according to Desikan.

Vejaiy Subramanian, 23, also from India, who’s working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, said he’s not sure why Americans celebrate Halloween. Subramanian and friends however, gather together each year to have fun and celebrate Halloween.

The word “Halloween” comes from the Catholic Church and it’s a contraction of “All Hallows Eve” or “All Saints Day,” a Catholic observance day to honor the saints created in the 800s by Pope Boniface IV.

In Celtic Ireland during the fifth century B.C., the Celts summer ended on Oct. 31 and a holiday called Samhin, meaning the Celtic New Year, began, according to, a Web site devoted to the customs of holidays.

The story says the dead spirits of those who died a year before would come back looking for bodies to possess for the following year — their only hope for afterlife.

The Celts practiced a pagan religion known as Druidism, according to Wonderful World Tomorrow, a Christian organization.

The Celtic priests and wizards called the Druids, were well-educated in astrology and magic. During Samhin, the Druids built large bonfires and often human sacrifices were executed, a practice to honor the Druid gods, according to WWT.

The Celts “believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.”

In order to protect themselves, the villagers would put out the fires in their homes to make them cold and undesirable. Then, they would dress up in ghosts’ customs and loudly walk around the town behaving in a destructive manner to frighten the spirits.

Some people would leave bowls of food outside their homes hoping the ghosts would be content with that and wouldn’t come in, according to WWT.

According to, the Celts would burn someone at the stake who was believed to be possessed by a spirit to make an example of the person for the spirits.

However, in the first century A.D., the Romans copied the Celtic rituals as their own and included some of their own celebrations as a part of the Samhin holiday, which still occurred in October.

During the month of October, the Romans honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, on a certain day. Pomona’s symbol was the apple, which might be the reason for the modern day tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween, according to

Over time, the practices changed and the belief of spirit body possession faded — while dressing up like ghosts became more a traditional role.

During colonial times, the people participated in ghost-telling and pranks such as tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.
In the 1840s, Irish immigrants introduced Halloween to Americans. Americans would dress up in costumes and walk from door to door asking for food or money, according to WWT. Over time, children began the practice of asking for food or money from door to door on Halloween.

The trick-or-treating custom originated in the ninth century from a European custom called souling, according to On Nov. 2, the day of “All Souls Day,” Christians would walk to different villages asking for “soul cakes,” a square piece of bread with currants.

The more “soul cakes” beggars would receive, the more prayers they could say for the givers’ deceased loved ones. The souls of the dead would remain in an indeterminate state and prayers, even by strangers, would rush the souls to heaven.

Another custom associated with Halloween is the pumpkin or carving out faces to create the jack-o-lantern placed outside houses. The jack-o-lantern comes from an Irish folktale of a man named Jack who was drunk. Jack tricked Satan into climbing a tree and carved an image of a cross in the tree cornering the devil.

After Jack died, he couldn’t enter Heaven because of his wicked ways, and he couldn’t go into Hell either since he tricked the devil. So the devil gave Jack an ember to light his way through the darkness, according to The ember was inside an empty turnip to keep it gleaming longer.

The Irish used turnips as their jack-o-lanterns, but when they came to America they found more pumpkins available than turnips, which
created the lighted hollow jack-o-lantern pumpkins used today.

Some people believe the Halloween custom originated from pagan rituals or devil worships. In fact, the holiday developed from the Celts celebrating their new year and from Europeans’ prayer rituals from medieval times.


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