Halloween today is a largely commercialized festival today that most people believe to be an American invention. Typical Halloween festivities include watching horror films, going to costumer parties, telling scary stories, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, apple bobbing, lighting bonfires, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns and going “guising” or trick-or-treating. However, the festival has rather deep roots and explores the reasons why Halloween is celebrated.
The feast of All Saints
Many Christian scholars maintain that the feast for All Hallows (All Saints) that falls on October 31 is the source of the festival that is today known as Halloween. The last day of October also marks the beginning of the triduum of Hallowmas which could have provided the name for the festival during the middle ages.
A Christianized feast marking pagan harvest festivities
Most pagan cultures in Europe had their own harvest feasts that marked the end of the warmer months. The Gaelic festival of Samhain is sometimes thought to have provided the roots for Halloween in Scottish highlands, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Isle of Man and Ireland. Samhain is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals and marked the beginning of the darker half of the year or the beginning of winter. Also known as the Celtic New Year during the middle ages, the All Hallows’ Eve has been celebrated in Gaelic Europe since the 16th century.
Halloween decorations came into being in the Scottish highlands
Halloween decorations like homemade jack-o’-lanterns are thought to have been derived out of Celtic and Samhain beliefs during the 19th century. It is thought that Gaelic people believed that fairies, malignant spirits and being and the devil himself appeared on All Hallows Eve and that carrying a light inside a pumpkin or turnip that has been hollowed out and shaped to look like a face would protect the holder of the light on their way home.