How “Halloween” became “Halloween” – the evolution of traditions

There was an old fall event that predated Halloween as we know it, before black cats, haunted houses, and trick-or-treating.

“It comes from the ancient Irish Celtic celebration of Sauin, which was their new year’s festival,” explained Lisa Morton, a local historian.

Lisa Morton has written several Halloween books.

She claims that the Keltic people held an annual ceremony to commemorate the end of fall and the beginning of a (spooky voice) colder, darker season.

According to Morton, the Keltics believed that when the barrier between seasons was broken, the barrier between worlds was also broken.

According to American festivals researcher Daniel Gifford, today’s Halloween is influenced by more than only the Keltic ritual.

“There’s Scottish influences, there’s Celtic influences, there’s German folktales about witches and things in the forest. All these traditions go all the way back to Roman times. There’s a Catholic element on ‘All Saints Day‘ and ‘All Souls Day.’ So, it’s really just kind of this big stew of influences,” said Gifford.

The Christian holiday of “All Saints’ Day” celebrated the saints of the church on Nov. 1. Back then, it was called “Hallowmass.”

The night before was “All Hallow’s Eve.” Which eventually turned into Halloween. The day after, or Nov. 2, is known as “All Souls’ Day.”

“All Souls Day is a commemoration of the dead and praying for the dead to help them move from purgatory into paradise,” said Beth Allison Bar.

Allison Bar is a history professor at Baylor University.

“I think the Halloween that we have today is definitely more derivative of the medieval ‘All Hallows Eve’ tradition. And I say that because most of the customs we have stemmed from the medieval celebration,” said Allison Bar.

These practices have evolved over time. Many, however, can trace their ancestors back centuries. Witches, goblins, and Jack-o-Lanterns are examples of customs.

“Pumpkins and the Jack-o-Lantern come from the Irish, who used to like to play pranks on people in their own homeland by carving these big gourds or these huge turnips that they had, and they would carve this spooky face on them. And the spooky face was supposed to represent a legendary character called Jack of the Lantern,” said Morton.

“Trick or treat” was not the friendly greeting we think of today. But rather a compromise: “Give us a treat or we’ll trick you.”

The tradition helped Halloween evolve into the kid-centric day it is now.

“You have this shift towards more and more children. What we recognize as trick or treating, I think, really took off after World War II with the suburban boom. You know, if you think about a typical suburb with all those houses, one after the other, you know, everyone kind of, you know, is in a single community. It’s tailor-made for trick-or-treating. And so that really takes off.”

“It stays focused on kids, and it just grows. It grows and grows,” said Gifford.

Check out the list of Halloween festivities across Tampa Bay this 2023.

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