While it’s the perfect season to start pulling out sweaters and jackets, it’s also a fitting time to dress up your home with Halloween decor and carve some pretty pumpkins. Amidst all the exciting festivities, do you ever wonder about the origin of Halloween? For instance, what is its meaning, and is its history pagan or Christian? This article will provide answers to these questions.
Where did the name come from?
In those days, the Christian holiday we know as All Saints’ Day was called All Hallows’ Day, and the day before, when an evening mass was held, was All Hallows’ Eve. That name eventually got shortened to Halloween.
The English name “Halloween” traces back to medieval Christianity. The word “hallow” is derived from the Middle and Old English words for holy. As a noun, it can also mean saint. So you could call it a holy holiday.
Is it really a pagan holiday?
Did these local Christian Halloween customs evolve from older pagan traditions? Most scholars agree that they did, though Catholic sources dispute the notion as lacking historical evidence.
As the Roman holiday spread to Christianized areas, traditions merged with local cultures, including Celtic communities that formerly celebrated Samhain, giving rise to Christian Halloween traditions like jack-o-lanterns, bonfires, and costumes.
The origin of trick-or-treating
Most mystical rituals of earlier times evolved into more lighthearted fun and games. For example, the somewhat heavy concept of connecting to the dead was replaced with the more lighthearted idea of telling the future.
An early predecessor to trick-or-treating is believed to be “souling,” the tradition of going door to door asking for “soul cakes,” a treat similar to biscuits, in exchange for prayers for the dead in purgatory.
Why is it celebrated in October?
The earliest root of Halloween is the ancient Gaelic festival. Although it occurred every November 1, it kicked off the evening before (October 31). It marked a pivotal time of year when seasons changed. People also believed the boundary between this world and the next became especially thin, enabling them to connect with the dead.
With the Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day came All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween, on October 31, as well as All Souls’ Day on November 2—a three-day holiday collectively called Hallowtide.
Halloween in America
The Halloween holiday remains popular in America today, but it almost didn’t make it across the Atlantic. The Puritans were disapproving of the holiday’s pagan roots, so they didn’t take part.
It was not until the second half of the 19th century, as Irish and Scottish immigrants began to arrive in America in greater numbers, that the holiday took hold as part of the national zeitgeist. Then it became a widely accepted festival in the early 20th century.