Whatever the origins or history of Halloween, Halloween is celebrated in many different ways by all sorts of people around the world. Traditionally, it was known as All Hallows’ Eve, when the dead were remembered. Over time, it became cultural. For Americans, it has become extremely commercialized. We begin to see Halloween decorations in the stores as early as August. Unfortunately, the emphasis on this commercialized holiday has shifted from the little cowboys and Indians to a much more evil and pointed attraction to all things hideous and pagan. Satan has undoubtedly made this commercialized holiday into something that has subtly focused on the ugly and demonic.
Many believe the festival of Samhain to have been the beginning of the Celtic year. At Samhain, farmers brought livestock in from summer pastures and people gathered to build shelters for winter. The festival also had religious significance, and people burned fruits, vegetables, grain, and possibly animals as offerings to the gods. In ancient Celtic stories, Samhain was a magical time of transition when important battles were fought and fairies cast spells. It was a time when the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken. The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead, who they believed held secrets of the future. Scholars believe that Halloween’s association with ghosts, food, and fortunetelling began with these pagan customs more than 2,000 years ago.
Many of the customs of the pagan Celts survived even after the people became “Christianized.” In the 800s A.D., the church established All Saints’ Day on November 1. About two hundred years later, it added All Souls’ Day on November 2. This day was set aside for people to pray for friends and family who had died. People made many of the old pagan customs part of this Christian holy day. Some people put out food for their ancestors, or they left a lantern burning in the window so that ghosts could find their way home for the night. Through the years, various regions of Europe developed their own Halloween customs. In Wales, for example, each person put a white stone near the Halloween fire at night and then checked in the morning to see whether the stone was still there. If it was, the person would live another year.
In the United States, many early American settlers came from England and they brought various beliefs about ghosts and witches with them. In the 1800s, many immigrants from Ireland and Scotland arrived in the United States and introduced their Halloween traditions. Other groups added their own cultural influences to Halloween customs. German immigrants brought a vivid witchcraft lore, and Haitian and African peoples brought their native voodoo beliefs about black cats, fire, and witchcraft.