Halloween Traditions Through History

By
October 29, 2007

Oct. 31 may seem like the one night of the year when sugar highs excuse bad behavior and when a ridiculous costume is the norm, though on any other day it might get you kicked out of a party.

As it turns out, the true roots of this ghoulish holiday are not so far from its modern counterpart.

At Mills, we celebrate Halloween in all of its diverse glory, some even think we ce-lebrate with a few spirits.

“[Halloween] has to do with supernatural spirits, a form of religion known as animism. It has roots as far back as the Stone Age,” said anthropology professor Robert Anderson.

With a little history about the holiday’s uncanny origins and some chilling tales about Mills campus, this Halloween may not be all about candy, costumes and parties after all.

Halloween began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Two thousand years ago, in the countries we now call Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, the new year was celebrated on Nov. 1.

The holiday marked the end of the summer harvest season and the beginning of the damp winter months, when death overcame many people.

The Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, Oct. 31, the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead blurred.

Druids and priests- wielders of magic- thought they had a stronger connection with the dead on this night. Celts relied on the dead for prophesies about the approaching harsh winter.

Huge bonfires were built for deities. Celtic peoples burned crops and animal sacrifices to ensure protection from the coldness of death.

How does this relate to the Halloween rituals of present day Americans?

Let’s just say that an ancient Celt may have stolen our brilliant costume idea centuries ago. Celts wore disguises, usually consisting of natural materials and animal hides, while attempting to tell each others’ futures at the bonfires.

Later on, ancient peoples came to believe that if they were in disguise, the spirits of the dead would not bother the living during their time on earth.

Since then, dressing up for Halloween has become a secular tradition in America, but the spirit of this holiday has lived on.

“In the strict sense,” Anderson said, the term Halloween is “less than 2,000 years old, but in a generic sense, maybe it is 200,000 years old.”

For however long this holiday has been celebrated, many cultures have since made this European holiday their own. Types of rituals and celebrations that pay respect to the departed are found in several places and are practiced with the ancient and modern in mind.

In all cultures, most Halloween celebrations seem to center on ghosts and ghosts stories, and Mills is no exception.

“So many people are interested in the ghosts. I have had people come and tell me that they have heard, seen and felt things,” said history professor Gordon Bertram.

This Halloween, Mills ghosts might also come out and because of our particular campus we might be more likely to spot some.

“You have long corridors, winding stairways, dark corners and there is bound to be a student sitting in her room alone one of these nights and well. things do happen,” said Bertram.


Halloween Traditions Through History was published on October 29, 2007 in Features

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