The History of Halloween

October 20, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

By Kaye Nemec

Although Halloween has religious roots in Celtic, Roman and Catholic celebrations, it became a more secular holiday in the 19th century.

Two thousand years ago, Celts celebrated New Years on November 1st in the festival of Samhain. Due to the changing climate, that date symbolized the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter.  They associated winter with death and believed that New Year’s Eve, was the night when ghosts of the dead would return to Earth. They believed the presence of the dead allowed priests to better predict the future and their prophecies were taken very seriously.  In order to support the priests, the Celts would celebrate Samhain by wearing costumes and building bonfires where they made sacrifices by burning crops and animals.

By 43 A.D., the Romans had taken most of the Celtic land and combined some of their traditions with the Celtic festival of Samhain. Romans celebrated Feralia, an event to commemorate the passing of the dead, at the end of October. They also celebrated the Roman goddess of the trees, Pomona, around this time. Pomona’s symbol was an apple and it is believed this celebration is where “bobbing for apples” originated.

Eventually Christian beliefs began making their way through Celtic land and Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st All Saints’ Day, which was also known as All-hallows (All-hallows Eve began to replace the festival of Samhain).  About 200 years later, the Catholic Church named November 2nd All Souls’ Day which was a day to honor the dead. All Souls’ Day and Samhain had similar celebrations – costumes and bonfires. Collectively, All-hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day were referred to as Hallowmas.

When Europeans immigrated to America, they brought their Hallowmas traditions; in the late 1800’s the traditions of ghosts and honoring the dead become more family-friendly events like trick-or-treating and neighborhood parties.  Hallowmas became Halloween and grew into the child oriented, secular holiday that we are familiar with today.

The “Halloween Capital of the World” is Anoka, Minnesota — a small city near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul.

In 1920 Anoka hosted the first documented Halloween celebration and parade in the United States. The Halloween celebration was planned as an alternative to the pranks that had become common around Halloween. Prior to the organized Halloween celebration, troublemakers would let cows out of their enclosures, tip over outhouses and soap windows. City officials wanted to end the pranks and start a more positive Halloween tradition.

An official Halloween committee was formed and began planning a big event. When the time came, a parade made its way down Main Street and treats like popcorn, candy and peanuts were handed out. In true Hallowmas fashion, the night concluded with a huge bonfire. Seventeen years later, Anoka city officials convinced the United States Congress to grant them the official title, “Halloween Capital of the World.”

Since 1920, Anoka has hosted a huge Halloween celebration every year, except for 1942 and 1943, when it was canceled due to World War II. The city continues the tradition with their annual Halloween celebration. Just like the first year, a Halloween committee is formed, although now it is known as the Anoka Halloween Board of Directors.

This year’s event includes three parades, a pumpkin carving contest, a costume contest, BINGO, house decorating and of course, a bonfire.

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Pictures: Eric Martin (cc), Steve Chasmar (cc)

Sources: History.com, Anoka Halloween Capital of the World

Entry filed under: Demystified, History and Origins. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Halloween Secrets « Broken Secrets  |  October 29, 2012 at 2:00 am

    [...] Trick or treating can be traced back to European “guising” traditions where children would travel from home to home, reciting songs, jokes or poems. They didn’t say “trick or treat” back then, it was “please help the guisers” — a reference to the groups who performed plays to ward off evil spirits during Samhain, the Celtic celebration we now know as Halloween. [...]

    Reply
  • 2. Yahoo! Answers » Blog Archive » Halloween Secrets  |  October 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    [...] Trick or treating can be traced back to European “guising” traditions where children would travel from home to home, reciting songs, jokes or poems. They didn’t say “trick or treat” back then, it was “please help the guisers” — a reference to the groups who performed plays to ward off evil spirits during Samhain, the Celtic celebration we now know as Halloween. [...]

    Reply

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