Yesterday, as I was driving home from work, the radio was bombarded with advertising about where to get Halloween costumes, where the best Halloween parties would be and all of the activities associated with the holiday. As I was listening to all of the advertisements, I could not help but wonder, "what exactly does Halloween celebrate?" Moreover, when I thought of other holidays, like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc., it was easy for me to quickly point to the purpose of the holiday. However, despite celebrating it in one form or another for my entire life, I could not think of one reason as to why people dress up in scary costumes, children go from door-to-door asking for candy, or why anyone would ever say "trick or treat." My purpose for this blog is to answer all of these questions for myself and help you look smarter when you are handing out candy or are at a Halloween party.
There are two reasons why Americans celebrate Halloween: the first is the old Celtic holiday of Samhain and the second is the Christian holiday of All Hallows' Day. Many believe the origins of Halloween can be traced back to the festival of Samhain, which means "summer's end" in Old Irish. Samhain was held yearly around October 31, and the festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. During this time, the ancient Irish and Scottish believed spirits and the souls of the dead could more easily enter our world and could cause havoc such as damaging crops and sickness. As a result, people would leave gifts or offerings to the spirits in order to welcome them. In 19th century Ireland, candlelight prayers would be said before special bonfires and eating and drinking games began. The bonfire would attract insects, which would attract bats, and many believe this is one of the reasons that bats are closely associated with Halloween.