Where does Halloween originate?
When you think of the holiday, what images come to mind? Do you
think of pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns? Do you picture
costumed kids running from house to house yelling, “Trick or treat?”
How about horror movies with a too-shaggy wolf man howling at the
full moon, or a lumbering Frankenstein reaching for his next victim?
Maybe ghosts and witches who haunt the night, and hunt for the
unwary to take home to their lairs pops into your head?
These images represent stereotyped aspects of Halloween, especially in the United States. There, during the
weeks leading up to the holiday, pumpkins get carved into jack-o-lanterns, and kids agonize over the
perfect costume that will bag the most goodies. Shopping malls do a booming trade with haunted houses
as well. And as for the wolf man, Frankenstein, and all the other ghosts, witches, mummies, and vampires,
Hollywood has played a large role in popularizing this fare. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, B-movies
abounded. In more recent years, slasher franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm
Street have influenced, and have been influenced by, Halloween.
On the day itself, children roam the neighborhoods in groups, go from door to door, and accumulate
enough sweets to last until the end of November–just in time for Christmas candy canes and cookies!
Teenagers egg homes, string rolls of toilet paper in trees, and play other nasty, albeit mostly harmless, tricks.
Adults find their own fun at costume parties at bars and clubs.
Regardless of these associations, it’s a far older holiday than pop culture suggests. Although the word
comes from “All Hallow’s Eve” in medieval England, the actual origins of Halloween lie thousands of years
ago in Pagan Europe.
There exists conflicting specifics on the ancient traditions of the holiday. Yet all agree that it began with a
connection to the dead, and hence do the modern connotations originate. Halloween came at what was
considered the end of summer and the harvest season, when snows and cold weather would shortly arrive.
The land died, at least until spring, and with it there was the idea that the dead returned, too. Although
some of the ghosts were relatives who had passed away within the year, others who roamed the land were
far more malicious.
The people of ancient Europe believed it was the Lord of the Dead who called
forth the evil spirits. As a form of protection, priests lit great bonfires to drive
away the evil. Villagers gathered around the bonfires, burned crops and
animals as sacrifices, and sometimes dressed in costumes of animal skins. Later
everyone returned home with fire from the sacred bonfire, and relit the hearths
of their homes. This afforded protection to the home and its inhabitants during
the course of the next year, especially important during the bleak winter months.
For all the candy, costumes, and cheesy movies, did you guess the older, darker
meaning of this very ancient holiday?
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