The theory is that Halloween began in the British Isles out of the Pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) as far back as 5 B.C. It was believed that on All Hallows Eve spirits rose from the dead and mingled with the living. The Celts left food at their doors to encourage good spirits to remain and wore masks to scare off the bad ones.
Some historians believe that when the Romans invaded England, they added some of their own traditions to the celebration of Samhain; like celebrating the end of the harvest and honoring the dead; others say that since the Celts were never really conquered by the Romans that there was no mingling of cultures and that the Celts already celebrated the end of the harvest and honored their dead in this way.
In an attempt to get rid of pagan holidays like Samhain, the Catholic church, dedicated November 1st as All Saints Day, for all the saints who do not have their own holy day. This attempt to get rid of Samhain didn't work and the customs and celebrations on the eve of All Saints Day continued to grow.
During the 1840s when large numbers of Irish immigrants moved to America, they brought their Halloween traditions where it continued to become more popular.
The modern name of Halloween comes from "All Hallows' Eve," or the eve of All Hallows' Day. "Hallow" is an Old English word for "holy person," and All Hallows' Day is just another name for All Saints' Day, eventually, it became abbreviated to Halloween.
The Jack O Lantern
Jack o’ Lanterns have been part of Halloween for centuries. It originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Stingy Jack, true to his name didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil changed into a coin, Jack decided to keep the coin and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross. This kept the Devil from changing back. Eventually, Jack freed the Devil on the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die during that year, the Devil would not take his soul.
The next year, Jack tricked the Devil again by getting him to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree's trunk so he could not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years.
Jack died soon after and as the story goes, God would not allow such an person into heaven and the Devil still mad at Jack kept his word not to take his soul and wouldn’t allow Jack into hell.
The Devil sent Jack into the night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth for all eternity. The Irish began to refer to the cursed figure as Jack of the Lantern, until it eventually became, simply Jack O' Lantern.
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o' lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o' lanterns.
Trick or treating
Trick or treating can be traced back to Britain and All Souls Day. Poor people would go to people’s homes at night begging for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. The people would give them a treat known as a soul cake. After some time, children became the beggars and the people would give out fruit, bread and sometimes money.
When the custom came to America, the children were given candy to keep them from playing tricks on them such as egging their homes.
The tradition of dressing in costumes and masks on Halloween finds its roots in both European and Celtic history. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to roam the earth, people thought they would encounter the ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being seen by ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits and just pass them by.
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