One of the world’s oldest holidays, Halloween didn’t start out as a holiday for costumes, trick-or-treating or carving pumpkins. The Halloween celebrated today has elements of several different religious and cultural traditions. The name Halloween is an abbreviation of “All Hallows Eve,” a traditional name for the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day.
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Halloween wouldn’t be what it is today if not for the Celtic holiday of Samhain, an ancient celebration of the spirits of the dead. A Roman festival called Feralia is another Halloween inspiration. Although Feralia occurred in February, it was a public festival where citizens made offerings and sacrifices to calm the spirits of the dead so they wouldn’t haunt the living.
The original Celtic holiday of Samhain occurred on November 1, not October 31. Samhain was one of the most important holidays for Celtic people, and its festivals were conducted by their priests, the Druids. On Samhain, the Celtic people believed that the spirits of those who had died over the course of the year would mingle with the living before traveling on to the afterlife. In addition to the spirits of departed souls, other supernatural creatures like fairies and demons came out “to play” during Samhain. Festivals and celebrations were meant to aid the good souls on their way, and keep bad spirits from doing harm to the living. Samhain also celebrated the harvest, and foods associated with fall, such as apples, pumpkins, spices and cider, were part of the early traditional celebrations.