History of Halloween, All Saints Day & All Souls Day

As a grade school student, I researched my family heritage. I learned Halloween dates back 2,000 years to pagan Irish traditions. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain tried to scare ghosts with bonfires and scary costumes.

The Celts lived in Ireland, Great Britain and Northern France. The Roman Empire eventually conquered most of the Celtic region.

During the next four hundred years, the people blended two Roman festivals with Samhain. The Roman Feralia honored the dead. They also recognized Pomona, the Roman goddess that the apple symbolizes.

Halloween costumes date back to the Celts and Europeans who feared uncertain crops and short days. In preparation of the harvest, Celtic priests predicted the future.

The people took comfort in hope for prosperity. They lit bonfires to symbolize protection for the next season.

The Celts thought ghosts visited them on Halloween so wore masks to blend with the other spirits. They left food outside to please the ghosts. This transitioned to be modern day trick or treating.

October 31 also honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple. The superstitious Irish associated these fun traditions with match making. Hence, the birth of bobbing from apples.

The Spanish brought Christianity to the Celtic people. Fast forward, Pope Gregory III named November 1 a time to honor all saints. All Saints Day built on Samhain traditions with night before festivities called All Hallows Eve, which evolved to be Halloween on October 31 as we know it today.

The church named November 2 All Souls’ Day to honor the dead in the Ninth Century. Poor people begged for food, known as soul cakes, in exchange for their intention to pray for wealthier neighbors' dead relatives.

When the Irish immigrated to America after the 1846 Potato Famine, they introduced Halloween and Jack-O-LanternsJack-O-Lanterns trace back to the Celtic folk tale of a farmer Jack who played tricks on the devil. The devil confined Jack to purgatory with a burning lump of coal.

Jack carved a lantern from a turnip to guide his lost soul. Americans substituted the more common and less expensive pumpkins to ward off evil spirits. 

Halloween fun gained momentum during the Roaring Twenties and the 1950 with the Baby Boomers. Today, neighbors and school kids decorate pumpkins to commemorate Halloween. Last year, our family ran in a Halloween fun run and dressed as Star Wars characters.

Halloween Fun Run

Halloween Fun Run

Similar to many areas, our boys' school hosts Trunk-or-Treat. The parking lot fills with parents' cars. Many follow a theme such as spooky, Wizard of Oz or homage to the popular kids' book Dragons Love Tacos.

Our boys attend school mass in formal uniform on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Our six-year-old's first grade class will process out of their church after the priests to drop rose petals to honor the saints.

Our oldest wrote my husband's parents names down in addition to his Aunt Dolores and Uncle Dave, who passed away this year. He and his classmates brought those names in a box for loved ones who rest in peace to the altar. We remember martyrs of the Church and loved ones who now rest in peace.

Best wishes for a safe Halloween and meaningful All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Would love to read in comments how your history of Halloween evolves.

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