My granny is so medieval that dinosaurs feel young when they celebrate in the same backyard. :P I have to believe whatever she says. Not because I trust her stories, but it's herself who decides what to believe and what not to. Yes! For my siblings and me as well. :/
That's how our grannies are— cute opinion-shoving hoomans! Anyway, she was reciting Halloween culture's story once. Like always, I never trusted her stories. "People celebrated Halloween to ward off ghosts," she said.
"Yeah, yeah! Like those flying pegasus and elephant-faced men who lived in a tribe of normal humans. Isn't it?" I hit a sarcastic jibe. I always thought every festival started with superstition and later became a cult blinded by their ignorance.
Whatever she said sounded like an alien concept, beyond science and physics.
"Don't mock! Every festival has a reason," she said in her soft-muffled voice. "Even your favorite fancy costume festival, Halloween is." And then she went on to describe the story I thought I would never believe.
But guess what? I did! Her research was more profound than those 2 am Genz philosophy talks. Such is Halloween's story than any script; they would feel five feet short of its greatness. You must be curious about what it was, which made me trust her words. But don't you worry! I will share everything with you right now. So ready to roll?
The general belief...
So people celebrate Halloween on October 31st every year. Halloween will fall on Saturday this year. Unfortunately, the holiday falls on the weekend. xD The custom began with the "Celtic festival of Samhain."
You must be wondering what Samhain is. Well, Samhain is a festival native to Gaelic audiences. I asked my nanny what Gaelic is! She said, "the natives of Ireland, Scotland, and Northwestern Europe were Gaelic." You see... she also had better geography than I did.
These Gaelic ethnicities enjoyed Samhain as the mark of the end of the harvest season, the brighter season. And welcomed the darker-half of the year, the winter. And here's how people welcomed it: they would light bonfires and wear Samhain costumes to buzz off ghosts.
I wonder if Game of Thrones' legendary dialogue, "winter is coming," was adapted from Celtic cults' social influence.
So what has Samhain got to do with Halloweens?
Some are robbers, some are borrowers, and some sassy guys are masters of plagiarism? Well, Pope Gregory III pulled the biggest plagiarism of the eighth century when he copied Samhain's traditions! No offense!
So this dude was trying to designate November 1st as All Saint Day to honor all saints. That's when he thought of picking some customs of Samhain for the day. And he did that. He was also good at neology. The godman called the evening before 'All Saint Day' as 'All Hallows Eve.' Later the name was changed to Halloween.
This is how Samhain passed on its values to Halloweens. And now you know how Halloween has evolved. It's a fun day— full of activities, tricks and treats, gathering, pulling out ghastly costumes, and carving jack-lanterns on turnips or potatoes.
It's all in the details of origin...
The tradition of Samhain is believed to be as old as two-effing-thousand-years. That's as old as when the cross guy hung in your drawing room's painting, the Holy Prophet... The Celts associated this time with human death because the darker, cold winter killed many people.
Here's the exciting bit of background story. Celts believed that right before their new year (November 1st), the boundary between the two worlds: the living and the dead diminished. You can say the dead would come and enjoy leisure with the living on earth. But livings didn't enjoy the company of the dead returned to the planet.
And here's how the event went...
My granny was shivering when she mentioned about how these otherworldly spirits damaged crops and troubled people. The tremor was really groundbreaking. I felt as if the ground slipped out of her feet. Celts also thought that these spirits gave special powers to Celtic priests to determine the future.
And back then, people relied too much on prophecies by priests to ward off diablerie by the ghosts. Sticking to these prophecies gave Celts a sense of comfort in the dreadful-winter.
These priests made huge bonfires to control the spirits. People had to gather the evening before the new year, burn the crops and animals in the bonfire as a token of sacrifice to the Celtic deities.
This is the time when the locals wore costumes (now Halloween costumes). Impersonating animals was a common tradition. They wore animal skins and heads during the gathering. When the sacrifices and rituals were over, they would re-lit the bonfire and pray from the winter's slash.
The idea of hiding themselves in animals or beastly costumes was to hide from the evil spirits who might bring lots of troubles and misfortune in the winter.
All Saints' Day— the improvised Samhain
Image credit : everybody.si.edu
Fast forward to the 7th century. Well, my granny is a historian of her kind. So another Pope dude— this time Pope Boniface in 609 A.D— announced May 13th as Christian martyrs day.
In the 8th century, the Gregory guy thought of including all the saints in martyr day and shifted the dates from May 13th to November 1st. A century later, by the mid-9th century, Christianity had also disseminated among the Celts. The amalgamation between the church and pagans' rites was giving a new meaning to the festival.
In the next century, November 2nd, 1000 A.D, the church announced All Souls' Day. The day was to respect and honor the deceased. Many historians believe that the church was trying to impersonate Celtic festivals and pushed the church-sanctioned holiday concept.
All Souls' Day was celebrated as enthusiastically as Samhain. The same gathering, the similar sort of bonfires and parades, and most importantly, the good and evil costumes. Soon The All Saints' Day would turn into Halloween.
And then... Halloween migrates to America.
The Protestant belief systems of colonial New England didn't celebrate Halloween. So the Celts had other plans for the festivals. They migrated to the United States. Not that they wanted to spread their words of customs, but find new work because of the great Irish Potato famine.
But they wouldn't drop their culture. Instead, morph them with American values to give us what we know as trick-or-treating. During this period as well: Halloween costumes were not as famous as you'd like to consider.
The real uptick in Halloween costumes came in the mid-1900s when the American version of Halloween emerged like a wildfire. You would want to thank Ben and Nat Cooper, the father entrepreneurs of pop-themed Halloween costumes. Much like Celts, the meshed Americans held public events to see the day through. Dances, songs, and gossips had made Halloween practice by now.
But why do we wear costumes on Halloween?
So you've seen the timeline. The Celts passed on their culture to the Romans. The Romans gave it to Christians. And then slowly, over 19 centuries, the anti-spirit dress-up culture got traction in the United States.
Many rituals and rites changed during these transitions and mix-breeding, but one thing that stuck with the idea of Samhain was its costumes. Today, you might celebrate and enjoy changes in the events, but one ritual you can't change is dressing yourself up in different costumes.
In fact, the custom has been readily accepted by millennials and GenZ so much it seems the festival is in safe hands and doesn't seem to get extinct. If you're still asking why do we wear costumes on Halloween, let me tell, the reason doesn't matter anymore. Such is the event deeply rooted in our culture; the day seldom needs any reason to try different Halloween costumes.
The 1920s to 30s saw a Halloween breakthrough
In the 1920s, we were in that period of Halloween when it had seeped into the secular fabric of America. Parades, parties, town-side gatherings had become a great source of entertainment.
But Halloween had one problem: vandalism. It was a part of Halloween ever since Celtic celebrated the day. Initially, they played pranks like setting the farms on fire, tripping people, and burning the cabbage, and putting in the keyhole to give the insiders a noxious-smelling vapor.
But soon, the prank had gone beyond the limits, especially in the cities. Breaking glasses, flattening tires, and setting fires invited many protests. Finally, by the 1950s, the plague of vandalism was controlled.
After years of vandalism, protests, support, and hatred, we eventually have Halloween we know. The event is now the joy of dressing up unique, instead of mass bullying and pranking.
The final argument
So now you know why I trusted my granny! She had a hell of a lot of information on Halloween I never knew existed. Then I cross-verified many channels to gauge the authenticity of her story! And I was surprised to find her knocking some common sense in my brain with dead truth.
Tell me, why do you celebrate Halloween, and what's your favorite costume?