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Haunted History

Haunted History

From whence it all began...

Each year, as the end of October looms, we begin searching for the perfect Halloween costume, the spookiest Halloween decorations, and, of course, we start brainstorming the best Halloween pumpkin carving ideas. For weeks we plan out the ideal Halloween décor, and consult with friends about Halloween party ideas and outdoor Halloween props. Sure it's a lot of fun, but how did ghosts and goblins come to have their own day of honor?

Halloween is perhaps one of the oldest holidays on record, dating back more than 2,000 years to the days of the Druids (Celtic priests) and the Celts. While largely linked to what is now Ireland, the Celtic people lived across a wide region which included Great Britain and northern France, and marked their New Year on November 1st. This was the end of summer and a time of harvest as they began to prepare for the cold, dark winter. For many, this time of year represented a period of death. According to Celtic belief, the line separating the living and the dead became blurred on the eve of the New Year, October 31st. On this night they celebrated Samhain (sow-in) and believed the spirits of the dead rose again. Besides causing mischief and wrecking crops, the ghosts helped the Druids see into the future—something very important to an agrarian culture dependent on the earth and the weather. These prophecies comforted the people as they bedded down to ride out the bleak winter. To properly celebrate Samhain, the Druids lit large bonfires, burned crops, and offered animal sacrifices to the gods while villagers dressed in costumes made of animal skins and heads.

By 43 A.D. the Romans had arrived, conquering much of the Celtic lands, and Samhain was integrated with two Roman festivals: one commemorating the dead and a second paying homage to the goddess of fruit and trees. It is thought that this is where the tradition of 'bobbing for apples' began.

Several hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church got in on the action, naming November 1st a day to honor the saints—All Saints Day—and later, November 2nd became All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. However, the people never forgot their Celtic customs and October 31st remained an important date. From here we draw the term All-Hallows, and of course, the night before it, All-Hallows Eve, or Samhain.

When immigrants began pouring into America in the mid-1800s and early 1900s, they brought their Halloween costumes and customs with them. As people from around Europe began to coalesce into one people, they merged their various traditions. Neighbors dressed up and held parties to tell ghost stories and tales of mischief. By the 1950s, Americans had settled into the version of Halloween as we know it today: a mix of trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, scary tales, costumes, and merriment.

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