Halloween is perhaps the most beloved holiday aside from Christmas. You can feel it coming. The crisp October wind, the way the sunlight changes, the excitement of a new season. Pumpkin Spice lattes come back to Starbucks and the aroma of autumn leaves permeates the air. It’s eerie, beautiful, and mysterious. You can’t help but love it.
When we think of Halloween several things come to mind: pumpkins, candy corn, ghosts, vampires, witches, skanky costumes, and Sleepy Hollow.
It’s rare that one stops to wonder why exactly we celebrate this holiday in the first place. Where did it all begin? Why do we carve jack-o’-lanterns? These are questions I started asking myself, and I had to find out the answers.
The History of Halloween Itself
Halloween is believed to be linked to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Samhain, translated as “summer’s end” in Old Irish, celebrates the coming of the “darker half” of the year. The festival begins on Halloween night and ends at sunset on the first of November.
In medieval times, the Celts believed that the separation between our world and the other realm was thin during Samhain, which allowed both good and evil spirits to come around. The use of costumes and masks came about because of the Celts’ desire to ward off evil entities. They believed that in disguising themselves as wicked beings, the spirits would think they were one of them and leave them alone. The name “Halloween” came from the Scottish “All Hallows Even,” and was originally abbreviated Hallowe’en.
In exploring this topic, I came across a tasty Halloween tradition called Soul Cake. Soul Cakes are popular in Europe, particularly in Ireland, Great Britain, and some parts of Italy. They are round, petite cakes that were traditionally made for All Souls Day to commemorate deceased loved ones. Soul Cakes would usually be given to the poor and to children, called “soulers,” who went door to door to sing and pray for the dead. Every cake eaten represented a soul being set free from Limbo so it could go to heaven. Many people believe this is how the tradition of trick or treating got started.