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The History of Halloween

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

You probably went trick-or-treating when you were a kid and may have even helped your children pick out costumes and collect candy. But do you really know the history of this exciting holiday?

Halloween used to be a fairly religious occasion up until the 19th century, when it began to change into a community celebration for children. The original holiday was a mixture of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic and Roman rituals and European folk traditions. Halloween was thought of as the day when the dead could return to earth and as a celebration of the passing of autumn into winter.

The Celts celebrated Samhain on October 31st, which was when the dead supposedly came back to earth. When Christianity spread to the Celtic kingdoms, November 1st was pronounced All Saints' Day, when saints were honored. Many people think the pope was trying to replace Samhain with a related, church-sanctioned holiday, which was commonly called All-hallowmas. The night before began to be called All-hallows Eve, which eventually evolved into Halloween.

The tradition of wearing costumes started with the Celts, who would wear masks when they left their homes on Samhain so the ghosts wouldn't recognize them and would think they were spirits too. People put bowls of food outside their homes to distract the ghosts and keep them outside.

Trick-or-treating likely came from England's All Souls' Day parades, where poor people begged for food and families would give them "soul cakes" if they promised to pray for their dead relatives. This was the church's invention to replace leaving food for the spirits, which was thought as wasteful. Children started visiting the houses in their neighborhood, going "a-souling" for food and money.

Even though Halloween can be a silly holiday, it has some legitimate roots. So before you put on that costume and gobble down some candy corn, you may want to remember the rich history of this beloved celebration.