Written by Mo Stone
As the weather grows cooler, there’s one holiday at the end of the month that is getting us excited: Halloween! Nowadays, this fun holiday of tricks and treats is a popular one, but where did it begin? And where in the world can you go to get your costume on? Read on to find out more about this much-beloved spooky celebration.
Samhain and Ireland: The Origins of Halloween
Halloween is actually quite an old holiday, with its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain that originated in Ireland and Scotland. This festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker, colder months, and it was believed that for one night, the souls of the dead could cross over into the physical world. People would light bonfires to keep away the darkness, and dress in costumes and carve jack-o-lanterns to confuse and frighten evil spirits. Even the custom of trick-or-treating originated with Samhain, as revelers would go door to door reciting poetry in exchange for food. Travelers can still experience Samhain today by visiting Edinburgh or Dublin, where some of the biggest celebrations continue to take place.
Halloween itself is also celebrated throughout Ireland, where it continued to evolve and other traditions were added. Tricks and fortune telling are also large aspects of the Irish Halloween festivities. Children prank their neighbors by knocking on doors and then running away, and if you find a ring inside your piece of barmbrack, a traditional fruit cake, legend has it that you will soon be married.
American Traditions and Modern Interpretations
Until the 19th century, Halloween wasn’t a common holiday in the United States, but due to a boom in immigration from Ireland and Scotland, it quickly caught on. Nowadays, most people around the world know about Halloween from American traditions and from how it is depicted in American media. It is this version of the holiday that has become most wide-spread.
Halloween in the United States is a day for everyone to have good, spooky fun. For children, dressing in costumes and going trick-or-treating in the neighborhood for candy is the norm, while adults get into throwing parties or attending events such as haunted houses, horror film screenings, and masked balls. The holiday has definitely become quite commercial, and is now among the holidays that Americans spend the most money on. Memorable Halloween experiences can be had all over the country, including in Salem, Massachusetts, the site of the infamous Salem witch trials; at the famous street fair in West Hollywood in California, one of the nation’s best gay nightlife districts; and in New Orleans, home of voodo in the US.
These days, the American concept of Halloween has been catching on in many other countries, even those that don’t traditionally celebrate, such as France or Germany. In Japan, Halloween has quite taken off as a day for costumed adults to gather and revel in Tokyo, and Transylvania in Romania has embraced it’s spooky claim to fame by hosting Dracula and Halloween-themed tours and parties.
Día de Los Muertos: Celebrating the Dead in Mexico
However, all of these Halloween celebrations pale in comparison to Día de Los Muertos, the three day celebration of the dead that takes place in Mexico, Latin America and Spain. On October 31st, it is believed that the spirits of the dead return to their earthly homes. To honor them, people construct altars in their homes and businesses and fill them with flowers, candy, photographs, and food and trinkets that their loved ones enjoyed.
During this time, the atmosphere of even the tiniest towns becomes lively and festive with parties and feasts, music and dancing. Colorful parades with people costumed as skeletons and bands playing traditional mariachi music add to the excitement. On November 2nd, people gather at the gravesites of their relatives to pay their respects. While the focus of the entire festival is on death, and some of the imagery can be eerie, it is ultimately a celebration of life and a way to pay tribute to one’s ancestors.
Do you celebrate Halloween? What are some of your favorite traditions for this enchanted holiday? Tell us in the comments below!