When the doorbell rings and you’re confronted by a group of pint-sized witches, zombies and vampires wanting a trick or a treat, it’s the culmination of centuries of tradition and history.
If, in recent years, Halloween has become a celebration of Americanised commercialism, its roots stretch back much further than Scream masks and pumpkin pies.
The festival has its origins in the mists of time – and some of its features remain consistent across different cultures.
October 31, is the last day of the Celtic calendar. It was originally a pagan holiday, honouring the dead.
Halloween can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and northern Europe. Its roots lay in the Druid feast of Samhain, which fell annually on October 31 when the dead were remembered.
Samhain marked “summer’s end” and was a harvest festival with huge sacred bonfires, signifying the end of the Celtic year and beginning of a new one.
The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night.
Since not all spirits were thought to be friendly, gifts and treats were left out to pacify the evil and ensure next year’s crops would be plentiful.
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In the Christian tradition, Halloween was also known as All Hallows Eve and dates back to the first millennium.
It was the evening before All Saints Day, created to convert pagans, and is celebrated on November 1.
Fast forward to the second half of the 19th century, and America was flooded with immigrants.
The newcomers, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularise the celebration of Halloween in America.
Drawing on Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s trick-or-treat tradition.
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However, trick-or-treating also has links to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England.
During the festivities, poor people 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.
Children would later visit houses in their neighbourhood and be given ale, food, and money.
Far from being a recent Americanised innovation, the trick-or-treat tradition has come back to us in a roundabout fashion.
Right, where’s my turnip?
Source : Chroniclelive