Every year brings the same seasons and holidays, especially in Upstate New York where we can so vividly see the leaves change and the weather become colder, anticipating the first snowfall. And every year we watch our children go back to school and the teachers to work, and we know that Fall has officially arrived. As this season begins to close and colder weather sets in we celebrate the holiday known as Halloween. We all know this as a holiday for kids, one in which they dress up in costumes and go door to door trick-or-treating. What many of us have forgotten, or perhaps have never even known was that Halloween was once a Pagan holiday, one that Americans have adapted and transformed far beyond what our ancestors could have imagined.
The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the Celts, who were known to have lived over 2,000 years ago in what is now known as Ireland, Scotland, and England. It wasn’t always called Halloween though — the name went through many transformations over the Centuries. Some might be familiar with the term All Hallow’s Eve, which was the Christian Church’s way of blending old Pagan rituals with the new religion that swept through the Roman Empire. Around 43 A.D. the Roman Empire had conquered much of the lands of Europe, including the Celtic territory.
The Celts believed in the Gods of Old and showed their faith through worship. This worship is different than how we view it today. 2000 years ago, every part of their lives were determined and influenced by the will of their Gods. With their nomadic lifestyle and low life-span, these ancient people had absolutely no concept of what we know today as meteorology or scientific explanation. When the weather turned bad or their crops failed, it was the will of their Gods. As Summer turned to Fall for the Celts, it was the coming of death for many of them. The winters were harsh and brutal, and many people did not live to see the Spring. So to help usher in the coming of winter, sacrifices and worship was made to their Gods, in hope of inspiring mercy. November 1st was the start of their New Year, so on the night before they gathered to light bonfires to burn crops and animals as sacrifices. While doing this many dressed in animal heads and skins to worship their Deities. This night, known as Samhain was also the night the Celts believed that the dead could return to Earth.
When the Romans converted to Christianity they brought new holidays to new lands. Though many Emperors tried to abolish the old Pagan ways and their days of worship, eventually (mostly to win over the populous) it was decided to blend Samhain with All Souls Day, November 1st which was a day to honor the dead. Through the centuries Halloween has changed many times, the most notable is in the Twentieth Century when America became a Melting Pot of Immigrants. Combining beliefs and traditions, Halloween became family and community oriented. The practice of dressing up became popular during this time, due to the fact that many actually believed that by disguising themselves as spirits, they would go undetected by real ghosts.
Throughout the 1900’s Halloween became increasingly more popular into what we know it as today. The more recent tradition of haunted houses, Halloween parties and all things scary has transformed this holiday into a commercial event that is enjoyed by more than just children. In many places you can find corn mazes, haunted houses, and movie events starting as early as September. America takes this season to heart, as it is one of the biggest money-making holidays on the calendar. But besides that, its fun! In almost every town or city you drive through signs can be seen of upcoming events to send a chill down your spine. In Syracuse alone there are more than 60 places that are hosting events for children and adults. From Cackleberry Castle in Camden to Fright Nights at the State Fair Grounds, you can get your thrill while celebrating the coming of Winter. And when your out with your family and friends just remember that you are carrying on the oldest holiday in the world.
References for this article include: