Winters mark the beginning of the festive season all over the world. While in India, these celebrations are marked by festivals like Dusshera, Diwali and Bhai Dujh, for the western world the festive season begins with the festival dedicated to honouring the dead– Halloween.
Our knowledge of Halloween has been limited to the American TV shows, that have shown the day as a spooky festival where people dress up in quirky costumes and party all night. But in reality, the festival was first celebrated 2,000 years ago by the people called the Celts in the region of Europe which includes Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France.
History of Halloween
The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. The day marked the end of summer and the beginning of winters for them. The Celts believed that on the new year’s eve, the boundary between the two worlds (the world of the living and dead) blurred, which allowed the ghosts to sneak in their world and cause trouble. So, they celebrated the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (modern-day Halloween) on October 31, lighting scared bonfires and dressing up as the dead themselves to protect them from the ghosts and the winters, a time which was often associated with human death at the time.
Halloween comes to America
Initially, Halloween celebrations were limited to Maryland in the Southern United States due to the presence of Catholic colonies in the area. The celebrations included ‘play parties’ and public events to celebrate the harvest. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century, when America was filled with immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, that the day became a major holiday in North America as well. By the first decade of the 20th century, Halloween was being celebrated by people from all social and religious backgrounds in the United States.
Here’s the story behind some of the traditions:
The Celts lit a huge sacred bonfire on October 31, where people gathered to burn animals and crops as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. The ashes were then collected and distributed among the villagers to ward off the evil spirits.
Dressing up like the dead
The Celts believed that the ghosts roamed freely on the Earth on the New Year’s Eve. Thus, they used to stay indoors to protect themselves until they came up with the idea of dressing up as dead people to confuse the ghosts.
Trick or treat
Poor Celts send their kids to the rich people to ask for food and money. The things collected by children were then used to light the sacred bonfire.
Carved turnips or pumpkins were used as lanterns in Ireland and Scottish highlands. These lanterns were used to ward off the evil spirits.
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