Celts of the past started their new year on Nov. 1. Rather than watching the ball drop in New York, the Celts believed that spirits would visit the world of the living. The dead would cause distraught on crops. In modern times, we understand this to be the natural shifting of season to fall. In order to calm the spirits, the Celts burned animals and crops in “bone fires” (the origin of “bonfires”), their version of providing treats. However, the ghostly presence was believed to increase the ability to make predictions about the future. Fortune tellers would dress in animal-skin costumes and try their luck in foretelling the upcoming year. However, it’s doubtful they were able to tell the impacts their traditions would leave on the world.
Celtic beliefs were mixed with other religions and practices in history, a repetitious molding process that created modern Halloween. Roman influence on the holiday incorporated their praise to the fruit and tree goddess Pomona. Pomona’s influence can be seen in Halloween games such as bobbing for apples.
When Chrsitianity spread to the Celtics, rather than trying to completely rewrite their beliefs, Christian’s decided to ease them into their culture. All Souls’ Day, or All-hallows men day. However, modern historians are recognizing that All Souls’ Day was most likely created purely for the purpose of replacing the Celtic holiday with a church-related. Rather than dressing in animal skins, Christians wore angel, saint, and devil outfits.
Halloween travelled to colonial America primarily through Irish immigrants when they flooded out of Ireland to escape the potato famine. With their arrival came another tradition: jack-o-lanterns. Theorized to have been inspired by the fables of will-o-the-wisps, the story follows a man named Stringy Jack, who carried around a carved out turnip with a face carved into it as a lantern lit with the fires from hell. The Irish believed that carrying similar lanterns would protect them from spirits of the dead on Halloween.
In the 1920s and 30s Halloween tradition had grown large enough that spooky season community parties were popularized.
Today, Halloween is celebrated on Oct. 31 every year. Costumes and trick-or-treating survived the ages and were accompanied by pumpkin carving and scary movies. Of course, some superstitions were also lost along the way. Young women no longer use the spooky season as a method of predicting their future love lives. Girls are no longer tossing apple peels over their shoulders and looking for them to spell out their spouse’s initials. Now, they fly on broomsticks in search of candy – something much better.