Prehistoric cave paintings provide evidence that even the earliest of humans were thinking about the afterlife.
Fast forward thousands of years and we’re still fascinated by, even fearful of, death, the afterlife and mysteries associated with both.
What happens to us after we die is at the core of each religion, and religion is at the core of Halloween’s history.
Sure, slasher films and black cats are commonly associated with October’s last day, but first and foremost, it is a holiday rooted in religion. And it dates back over 2,000 years.
Halloween stems from an annual tradition, called Samhain, which was celebrated by those who followed the ancient Celtic religion. Celts, in modern-day Ireland, would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.
“At the end of summer, the Celts thought the barrier between our world and the world of ghosts and spirits got really thin,” a 2013 BBC article states.
All the while, a short boat ride away, Christianity was growing in England.
“Later, with the Christian religion, (Samhain) became known as All Hallows’ Eve -- the day before All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1),” the BBC article continues.
The History Network reports, during the 9th century, Christianity spread to the Irish region and religious influence developed from there. Over time Samhain, Celtic beliefs in general, were replaced by Christianity.
“The legends and stories of pre-Christian Ireland survived alongside the growth of Christianity from the 5th Century,” states Gaelic Matters, a site dedicated to Irish history. It is believed the Celtic religion survived until the 13th century.
Three centuries after that, the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia.
In early American colonies, Halloween wasn’t common, due to the strict Protestant beliefs there. But over time, in classic American fashion, early settlers meshed with Native Americans and other ethnic immigrant groups. Certain regions of The New World developed unique Halloween traditions.
According to the History Network, America’s first Halloween celebrations included play parties, which were “public events held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing.”
But it wasn’t until the 19th century that Halloween became a nation-wide celebration.
“In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants,” the History Network article continues. “These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.”
Trick-or-treating was inspired by European tradition and, in the roaring 20s, Halloween parties became the norm, which makes sense given the economic prosperity and jazzy excitement of that time.
It is at this point in the timeline where Halloween takes on the shape we see today.
Since then, kids have donned sheets of linen and plastic masks. They’ve collected sweets while their parents host parties. We all gather, enjoy decadence and celebrate. But now we can do so knowing the history Oct. 31 is rooted in.
It dates back to ancestors who had fears, beliefs and questions about the world beyond.
In that sense, not much has changed.