I’m sure by now our international students have noticed scary looking pumpkins appearing on friend’s and neighbor’s porches, as well as candy and costumes popping up all over stores. Perhaps you have been wondering, “what on earth is going on here?”. These are signs that the Halloween season has arrived.
Halloween’s roots go back to the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. The Celts were a group of people who lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. In Celtic culture November 1st marked the first day of the new year and the beginning of winter. For the Celts these long cold winters presented many difficulties for their survival, and for this reason winter was associated with human death. Perhaps because of this association, the Celts believed that on October 31st the ghosts of the dead returned to roam the earth causing trouble and damaging crops. However, the Celts also believed that their Druids, or priests, could more easily make predictions about the future in the presence of these spirits. Consequently, the Druids would build bonfires on this day where the Celts gathered to offer crop and animal sacrifices to their deities while dressed in costumes, consisting of animal heads and skins.
After the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory, they adopted many of the customs and traditions from Samhain into their festivals Feralia, a day set aside to commemorate the dead, and Pomona, a day to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. In time, through the Roman Empire, some of these Celtic traditions mixed with the Catholic church’s All Saint’s Day and All Souls Day. All Saint’s Day was celebrated on November 1st and was a day to honor Catholic saints and martyrs. All Soul’s Day was the following day, November 2nd, and as the name suggests, it was a day to honor and remember dead. People would dress as saints, angels, and demons on All Souls Day to celebrate with big bonfires and parades. Another name used for All Saint’s Day was All-hallows. The night before All-hallows began to be called All-hallows Eve which over time evolved into the name with which we are familiar with today, Halloween.
These days, in the United States, Halloween is usually celebrated with family, friends and, occasionally, even co-workers. There are events for all ages to participate in during Halloween. At the beginning of October, many people begin getting into the “Halloween spirit” by decorating their houses and lawns with jack-o-lanterns and other scary ornamentation. Parties and other functions are generally planned on October 31st, Halloween day, but in the weeks leading up to this date people may celebrate by watching horror films, going on hayrides, visiting haunted houses and corn mazes, or holding costume parties. On Halloween day, children dress up in costumes and go around their neighborhood collecting candy and other goodies. For many of you, Halloween may seem like a strange tradition but we are certain you will enjoy it if you give it a chance!