Halloween Dark History - What is Samhain and Who Invented It?

Samhain is the foundation of Halloween dark history from which the custom of wearing masks and asking for candies came to life. Old Celtic tribes are the ones who invented Halloween tradition as a way to observe the new year and mark the transition from summer to winter.

Halloween dark history is now revealed. Depictment of the middle age Halloween celebration.
Halloween Dark History

How and Why Did Halloween Start?

According to the old Celtic calendar, October 31 was the new year’s eve. The first day of November was regarded as a point of time in which summer and harvest came to an end conceding position to winter. In the old times, when technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, seasons had much more impact on human lives. Winter was feared for its cold and death it always brought upon the arrival. Bad harvest could often lead to starvation of many due to a lack of food which was extremely hard to obtain. Summer, on the other hand, was a time of plenty. It is the reason why the passage day had special importance and had to be observed in a particular manner.

Halloween History Book

Why Is Halloween Frightening?

Old celts believed that on the night of 31st October the veil between our world and the afterlife is the thinnest. That’s why they were convinced that, once a year, ghosts, spirits and other abominations were able to come amongst the living and integrate their influence into streams of events. It is the reason for Halloween being wrapped by the atmosphere of frightening and threatening. Ghosts were often accused of stealing and damaging crops as the winter’s worst nightmare was to face the depletion of food. But besides strings of negativities, their presence could be used to extract some advantages as well. It was believed that being close to the entities from the other side helped Druids and Shamans with predicting the future.

Why Do People Wear Masks on Halloween?

Old Celts Dancing Around Bonfires To Celebrate Ancient Halloween - Samhain
Old Celts Dancing Around Bonfires To Celebrate Ancient Halloween – Samhain

Druids and other prominent Celtic priests had to pay respect for their predictions. They would light large bonfires around which tribe members would dance and offer sacrifices. Crops and animals would be given to the sacred flames in attempts to please deities. Fortelings of survival and plentiful future had large psychological impacts on tribes reliant upon the harsh and volatile nature of this world. The will to please the gods was so strong that it is even assumed the human sacrifice was a feature of rituals in the oldest ancient times. According to some claims, in the beginning, virgins would be burned to provide a weak winter and rich harvest in times that were to come. While paying respect to deities, all mass assembled around bonfires wore animal hides and masks. The reason for this was the presence of ghosts. Celts believed that covering their faces was going to prevent spirits from recognizing and following them to their homes. A similar custom was present in the culture of old Slavic tribes that inhabited the Balkan peninsula. However, instead of masks, they wore black clothes when attending funerals for the same reasons Celts masked themselves when dancing around bonfires.

Origins of Trick or Treat

The tradition of trick or treating roots back to the 9th century England when it was called souling.
Trick or Treat Origins

Despite being widespread and practiced, little in numbers are people that know what is the meaning of trick or treat, its origins or when did trick or treating started. Ancient times and Celts dancing around bonfires are considered for the cradle of this tradition. However, the social phenomenon of one party of people going from one house to another and expecting treat dates to 9th century England. The Christian custom of Souling implied poor people visiting residences of a rich. There, they would be given pastries known as soul cakes. In return, poor folk had to make a promise that they were going to pray for the souls of homeowner’s dead relatives. In Scotland and Ireland, people heading to their neighbors had to sing some songs or implement another kind of trick before receiving a treat. It is very likely that this custom was the foundation of the famous ‘Trick or Treat’ exclamation. Treat would consist of nuts, fruit, or coins. The term trick or treat itself wasn’t used until the 1920s when it was adopted in America. The first mention of trick or treating in print was on November 4, 1927 in an article written by one Canadian journalist:

“The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word ‘trick or treat,’ to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”

The beginning of world war two rapidly decreased the newly created tradition because sugar was strictly rationed. However, after the war, it scaled on the national level for good.

Is Halloween a Catholic Tradition?

Graveyard on All Souls Day - A Chirstian Version of Halloween
All Souls Day

Partial answer on the question of Halloween being a catholic tradition is yes. More specifically, the Roman church used Samhain as a foundation for building its own tradition. Both All Martyr Day and All Souls Day were invented in an attempt to assimilate the old and deeply rooted heathen traditions into the features of expanding Christianity. But even before church established its domain over Europe, heathen Romans were the first to include Celtic customs in their observation.

Halloween in the Ancient Rome

It is assumed that Celtic tribes existed even in 2000 B.C. However, the first recorded mention of these people can be found in the old Greek and Roman history records dating back to 700 B.C. Before the Roman expansion initiated by Julius Caesar in the first century B.C. Celts dominated most of Europe north of Alps mountain range. This included Ireland and Great Brittain. Romain military campaign led to almost full extermination of Celts in mainland Europe. Besides northern Spain and France, their culture was allowed to survive on the territories of Great Britain and Ireland were the traces of their customs are visible even today. As for Europe, Romans were the new dominant ethnic group and they integrated Samhain into their tradition.

Feralia and Pomona

Feralia was observed in late October to commemorate the passing of the dead. Pomona, the Goddess of fruits and trees featured by the apple symbol, was observed on the first day of November. This fact explains the tradition of bobbing apples on Halloween and presents us with the foundation on which the Catholic church built one part of its traditions.

How Church Gave Name to Halloween?

On May 13, 609 A.D, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs. Pope Gregory III expanded the festival. The new version did not only include those who were killed because of their beliefs but other saints as well. The celebration of the All Martyr’s day was moved from May 13 to November 1. Yet this was just the beginning of masking and transforming heathen customs.

By the end of the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands and managed to effect ancient Celtic traditions. In 1000 A.D. the church converted November 2 into All Souls’ Day in order to honor the dead. It was an unambiguous attempt of the church to replace heathen customs with “Jesus adjusted traditions”. Since it was impossible to exterminate rites associated with multi-god beliefs, fractions focused on expending Christian religion had to adopt them and resort to masking.

It started with changing the name. However, in incoming years, the celebration kept its basic form. Souls’ Day was celebrated like Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and masks and costumes as well. The main difference was that animal hides and masks were changed for outfits of saints, angels and devils. Another name for All Saints’ Day was All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse term for All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

How Halloween Came to America?

The Colonialization of the new World followed by large transports of slaves and migrations allowed Halloween tradition to expend across the Ocean. Due to Protestant’s rigidity, New England wasn’t so fertile soil for observation of Samhain. The same could not be said for the southern colonies such as Maryland and those below. The amalgamation of different Europen customs and native American traditions led to the emergence of the American version of Halloween. The prevalent role in establishing global scales of the holiday was the arrival of millions of Irish immigrants during the second half of the 19th century.

Irish Starvation Made Halloween Great

What really gave Halloween a push to become such a great holiday was the event history remembered as Irish Potato Famine or the great hunger. In 1845 the fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans appeared in Ireland and started destroying crops. In the first year, one half of potato crop was ravished while in the next seven years the damage even went to three-quarters of crops. It ended in 1852. During its course of seven years, hunger was responsible for around a million deaths from starvation and malnutrition and more than a million people migrating to the new world in pursuit of survival.

How Did Halloween Parties Look Like in the Old Days?

Ghost stories were one of the main features of the old Halloween. Since the date was in the middle of the autumn, it was used to observe the harvest as well. Play parties were a common occurrence on this date. Besides scary stories, these public events encompassed dancing around bonfires, singing and telling each-others fortunes.

Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween?

Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?
Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?

Before pumpkins, Irishmen used turnips in their original tradition featured by attempts to scare and chase spirits and ghosts away from the crops. According to a folk tale, Jack was a deceitful drunkard who, during his lifetime, tricked devil on several occasions. For this, after his death, he was denied from entering both heaven and hell. When the devil refused Jeck he gave him a little ember. Jack hollowed turnip and set the ember inside a space he made to preserve the light. This became the national tradition as most of the Irishmen would set scarcely curved turnips with gloving ember inside, at their doorsteps and edges of windows to chase other-side abominations away. However, when they migrated to the U.S which was plentiful with pumpkins, Irishmen noticed that pumpkin is much more suitable for creating scary faces with a fire burning inside. It is how the tradition got a new glaze.

Additional Amazing Facts Regarding Halloween

Besides the seemingly naive custom of masked kids running over the neighborhood and asking for candies having its dark history connected to ghosts and other after-life abominations, Halloween gave birth to many more interesting facts which are going to leave you amazed:

  • One-quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.
  • Pet costumes are getting more popular every passing year. Up until now, they fill 20% of all purchases of costumes.
  • In Ireland, there is a traditional Halloween bread.
  • Halloween is the deadliest pedestrian day for kids. Younglings are almost three times more likely to get hit by a car while they are distracted with games and Trick or Treating. It is the reason that how to protect kids on Halloween became one of the most popular questions in this time of year.
  • The most popular Halloween costume is the witch. Despite thinking of marvel heroes, girls riding brooms are the most common occurrence on the night of Halloween.
  • Some Halloween rituals included finding a husband.
  • One city in Canada banned teens over 16 from trick-or-treating.
  • Famous magician Houdini died on Halloween in 1926.
  • After Christmas, Halloween is the largest commercial holiday in history with consumers spending over 9 billion dollars.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, some of the Halloween pranks were so dangerous that part of states considered making the celebration of a holiday forbidden. Some Americans even took arms against Halloween tricksters and the fatal consequences ensued.
  • Halloween expanded even in the world of medicine. Some people developed extreme fears from this holiday. Individuals suffering from this condition are diagnosed with Samhainophobia.
  • Halloween is thought to be 6,000 years old and was first celebrated around 4,000 BCE.
  • In Alabama, it is illegal to dress up as a priest for Halloween, and you can be fined and/or arrested for the offense.
  • In 1964, Long Island homeowner poisoned candies with arsenic before giving the treat to teens he considered to be too old for trick or treating.
  1. […] Old Celts invented Halloween more than four thousand years ago but modern humans were the ones who gave birth to a whole new art related to this holiday – Pumpkin Carving. But why do we carve pumpkins? […]

  2. […] has its dark history rooting back to the ancient Celts who observed Samhain. However, the answer to why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween lies in the Irish folk tale about […]

  3. […] Jack is a two-word answer to the question: Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween. Halloween’s dark history goes back to ancient Celts and their New Year’s celebration called Samhain. However, the custom […]

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