History of Halloween Steeped in European Tradition


Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com

Although many people may not know how old or from where our Halloween traditions come, many are still celebrated today.

An ancient civilization dresses in scary costumes, chants a strange language, and gathers around an enormous bonfire waiting for their priests to announce predictions of the year to come. On this special night, the weather is becoming colder day by day, threatening these people’s very lives. The moon shines bright and the shaking of the trees is heard when a bone-chilling wind passes through the bare branches. They fear the coming winter, knowing it will be a hardship to survive the long, cold months.

No, this is not the latest Hollywood horror movie, but how Halloween began more than  two thousand years ago in Western Europe. The festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was celebrated by the ancient Celts, a race of people who lived in parts of Western Europe, including modern day England, Ireland, and France from the Late Bronze Age onwards. According to the article “History of Halloween” on history.com, the Celts’ New Year was November 1, and they “believed during the new year the line between the living and dead was blurred, and they believed the dead became alive again on that night.” The Celts, were afraid of these  menacing spirits who, they believed, would cause trouble and destroy crops, threatening their way of life. So, every Samhain,they would light giant bonfires and wear costumes to scare off the ghosts. According to the article, the “Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.”.  

The article also states that in i the 8th century, Pope Gregory III “designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.

Today, one of the biggest Halloween traditions is trick or treating. According to history. com, the custom “probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England” which originated in the 10th century. “During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called ‘soul cakes’ in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.”

Another modern day tradition is carving pumpkins. Pumpkin carving originated from an Irish folktale about a man called Stingy Jack who was a deceitful person. When confronted by the Devil multiple times, Jack always found a way to trick the Devil and extend his life. However, once Jack died, he was declined from both Heaven and Hell. Instead, the Devil gave him an ember to light his way through the night. To hold it, Jack placed the ember in a carved out turnip. The legend says he roams the Earth to this day. The Irish called this ghost “Jack of the Lantern” which then evolved into Jack O’ Lantern. When Irish families immigrated to America, they brought this legend with them.

These traditions are still part of the American Halloween culture today, and even though students may not know the origin of these customs, they still enjoy the holiday. “It is the one night to be the scariest creature, get candy, and come back to school sick” joked seventh grader Mady Wilson.

While many schools do not celebrate  Halloween because they think it is a distraction or has too many pagan roots, The Benjamin School has a long, rich history of Halloween celebrations which include the Lower School Halloween Parade, allowing students to wear costumes to school, and the Middle School Ppumpkin-D decorating Contest. competition, and “I think celebrating Halloween in school is fine since it has become a secular holiday,” said Benjamin seventh grader Owen Nutter.  “Most of the pagan roots are unknown by kids while like dressing up.”  Fellow seventh grader Anthony Pace added, that “I think Halloween should be celebrated in school because a lot of kids like it and really get in the spirit.”  

A lot of students do not just celebrate Halloween by dressing in costume and collecting candy, though. One of the best ways of celebrating Halloween today, especially in South Florida, is going to Halloween Horror Nights. This is an annual event that takes place  at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Halloween Horror Nights typically runs from September through November each year and begins around 6:30 p.m. each night. There are multiple haunted houses set up, and many of the people who attend dress in costume.The park employees dress up, too, as Jason (from the Friday the 13th films), Michael Myers (Halloween films), the Bride of Frankenstein, wolves, and more. “I thought the Jigsaw house was the scariest,” said seventh grader Gabe DiFilippo.. “The [employees] pop out every second dressed as pigs and squeal at you. I go to be scared and have fun.”. “I didn’t think it would be that fun, but I went for the first time [this year], and it was pretty scary,” said fellow grader Cole Grande. “The scariest house was scarecrow. There are all of these mirrors, and if you see someone in it, you know they’re going to jump out and scare you. I’m going to start an every year tradition [of going to Halloween Horror Nights],” he said.