On the evening of October 31, the evening prior to All Saint’s Day, the Christian feast, Halloween is celebrated. The history of Halloween stretches way back to the Celtic tribal religion (around 500 B.C.), the predecessors to the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, and the Britons. In fact, many present-day British are descended from the ancient Celts.
The Celts believed in a spiritual world and worshipped nature. They had over 300 gods. The chief god was the sun, and they dedicated two festivals to the sun: Beltane, which marked the onset of summer, and Saman or Samhain, which was dedicated to the beginning of winter.
Why is Halloween Celebrated?
It was believed by the Celts that by the end of summer, the lord of death, otherwise known as Samhain, rose up and overpowered the sun god. Samhain, on October 31, assembled all evil spirits – those that had perished over the previous year – and permitted them to return home so as to visit the living.
After the harvest, on October 31, the druids would gather either below an oak grove or close to a large stone circle (such as at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, southern England) and carry out sacrifices. They would light huge fires and offer Samhain sacrifices of animals and crops, thereby ensuring the sun would return on the conclusion of winter.
Villagers of the time would attempt to appease the demons and goblins through offerings of food and nuts. Should the demons be satisfied with the small treats, they would not cast any evil spells or trick the person. Thus the origin of today’s “trick or treat.”
Legend would have it that people would don masks or various other disguises, and also blacken their faces in an attempt to pass the spirits unnoticed. It was believed that spirits and ghosts were unable to see their own reflection. Thus, if a demon or goblin saw a similar creature to themselves, they would either not notice, or flee in fear.
When the Romans conquered England and Wales in around 61 A.D., they had their own harvest festival which was held on November 1, as a way of honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruits and trees. Given time and the two festivals were entwined, thus becoming a longer holiday.
Much later, in 843 A.D. the festival of All Saints Day, which was celebrated on May 13, was moved by Pope Gregory III to November 1. This new date was then named Hallowmas or All Saints Day. The night (or evening) before that date was termed All Hallow’s eve or Halloween.
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