0 years ago with the ancient Celts, who believed the transition from autumn to winter ushered in spirits of the dead. Their theory was that the darkness and cold made it easier for aos sí (supernatural fairies) and deceased souls to cross over between worlds. On top of this, it was harvest season and the Celtic New Year, so the combination of wanting to celebrate and also ward off spirits birthed a festival called Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”).
During Samhain, celebrants wore masks and built large bonfires to scare away ghosts. People also went door to door offering prayers in exchange for small breads called “soul cakes.” As Christianity spilled into Celtic lands, the church picked up some of these rituals, combining them with its own.
New and different versions of Samhain spread throughout the region and when Europeans began immigrating to the Americas in the 17th century, they brought their festivals with them. Two centuries later, the spread of the holiday progressed even further when immigrants with Celtic roots arrived after fleeing the Irish potato famine.
In the 20th century, particularly after World War II, the celebration (which had by then become Halloween or “Allhallows Eve”) began to look more and more like the holiday we know today. Businesses seized the opportunity to sell things like costumes and decorations, and ultimately Halloween morphed into a commercial holiday. In 2019, 172 million Americans celebrated the holiday, with the average consumer spending $86.27, according to the National Retail Federation. With COVID-19 safety measures like social distancing in place, fewer people are going trick-or-treating this year, but 58% of Americans still plan to celebrate the holiday in some way, and average spending is actually up, to $92.12.
To honor this spooky holiday, Stacker has put together a timeline that offers more details on the history of Halloween, beginning 2,000 years ago with Samhain and ending in present times. Take a look to learn more about the roots of this ghoulish festivity.
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