Historians think that the origins of Halloween can be traced back to the Pagan Festival of Samhain celebrated among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. It started being observed over 2000 years ago. November 1st was considered to be the end of the summer season; this was the time of return of herds from pastures and renewal of land tenures. It was also widely believed to be the time when the souls of the dead came back to visit their homes and families. People used to go around to each other’s houses and beg for what they called the soul cakes and that was, in a way, the origin of trick or treating. If they were indeed given a soul cake then the people would pray for the giver’s dead ancestors.
Over time as the belief grew, superstition also evolved; people started lighting fires on hilltops, and made lanterns out of turnips by carving demonic faces in them all to frighten away the evil spirits that might try to possess them. Another thing that got started at about the same time was ‘guising’ (which is where the word disguise comes from) and people dressed up in costumes in the face of the dead.
By the seventh century CE, Pope Boniface IV had established the holiday of All Saints Day. Originally celebrated on May 13th, it gradually shifted to November 1st, as the Pagan society in Europe slowly transitioned into a Christian one. Thus, the Festival of Samhain turned into a day to commemorate the lives of Christian Saints, the two days had completely merged by the end of the middle ages. The tradition of wearing disguises and lighting lamps and fires, however, prevailed.
Now it is a time that people associate with both pleasure and dread. These days Halloween doesn’t hold much religious significance. It’s mainly seen now as a night of dressing up and having fun. It’s a largely commercialised holiday with outfits going on sale months prior to the holiday and people buying all sorts of costumes and attires. Some people, however, dislike the event, seeing it as little more than organised begging with menaces – especially when faced with ten or more teenagers at 9pm all expecting to be treated!
I have mixed feelings about Halloween. It is good to see parents and children out and about having fun but it can become rather wearing as you are constantly up and down answering the door all evening and replenishing the sweet bowl. Ah well, it’s only once a year!