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Halloween is primarily now known as a commercial holiday, but historically it has religious roots. Below is the history of Halloween as well as the traditional symbols associated with the holiday, as compiled from History.com and What’s Your Sign. Learn these history of halloween symbols and be in-the-know for Halloween 2023. So what's the meaning of Halloween symbols and what do you know about Halloween history?
The History of Halloween
Before we get into things that represent halloween, let's briefly cover its general history. Halloween dates back 2,000 years to now present-day Ireland, northern France, and the United Kingdom, where the Celts celebrated the ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). Held on their new year, November 1, the festival marked the end of harvest and summer and the start of cold winter, which was often associated with death. The Celts believed the worlds between the dead and living crossed over and ghosts returned to the earth on October 31, damaging crops and causing distress. During this time, the Druids built bonfires, and people gathered wearing costumes of animal skins to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the gods.
By 43 A.D. most of the Celtic territory had been conquered by the Roman Empire, and during their 400 years of ruling, they combined two Roman festivals with that of Samhain. Feralia was celebrated in late October to commemorate the passing of the dead, and the second festival honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. Her symbol is the apple, which probably led to the tradition of bobbing for apples.
On May 13, 609 A.D., the Roman Pantheon was dedicated to Christian martyrs and the feast of All Martyrs Day was established. Later in the 730s, Pope Gregory III expanded the festival to include saints and moved the feast to November 1. In 1000 A.D., the church created All Souls’ Day to honor the dead which was held on November 2, and also included bonfires and dressing in costumes. All Saints Day was also called All-hallows, and the night before was known as All-hallows Eve, resulting in Halloween.
Symbols For Halloween
When Halloween came to America, the earlier celebrations included sharing stories of the dead, reading each other’s fortunes, making mischief, and telling ghost stories. In the second half of the 19th century, Americans started dressing up asking for food or money, which turned into today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. At the turn of the century the holiday shifted towards get-togethers, parties became common, and the Halloween lost its religious overtones by the start of the 20th century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween became a secular, community-centered holiday with parades and parties, but unfortunately was followed by vandalism. By the 1950s, vandalism was limited and Halloween was targeted to younger children who continued going trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.
Dressing up in costumes and leaving candy out for trick-or-treaters both have Celtic and European roots. Long ago it was thought that if people left home, ghosts would confront them, so people wore masks to avoid recognition, and left bowls of food outside the house to appease ghosts and stop them from entering. Today, Halloween is America’s second largest commercial holiday with an estimated $6 billion spent annually.
Typical Halloween Symbols:
- • Bats: commonly seen at bonfires due to the attraction of insects
- • Black Cats: believed to be a facilitator to other realms/worlds
- • Jack-O-Lanterns: used to provide light for those trick-or-treaters
- • Spiders: much like black cats, were thought to have supernatural abilities
- • Witches: since Halloween marks the time when the wall between living and dead is lowest and witches are devoted to the supernatural, it’s only fitting they’re a traditional symbol of Halloween
How Are These Symbols Presented in Modern Day?
Halloween symbolism has altered over hundreds of years since it began, but with each new century, the basic thought is still present in one element or another. Here are a few Halloween modern day symbols and their meanings.
The history of symbols we see every October have more meaning than you may realize. In modern day's Halloween, people tend to use bats as a symbol of the holiday to scare others in pranks, but there are many more uses. Some also use the symbol as a shape when making cookies or even hang plastic versions from the ceiling at parties. Symbolic bats are also used to decorate oneself in the form of colorful Halloween accessories and are a frequently use symbol in clothing and printed thematic and seasonal T-shirts. Symbolic black bats are a significant way to embrace the Halloween spirit, just make sure you're not afraid of them! You can easily purchase affordable plastic bats for decorating at most local stores such as a Walmart, Costco, Big Lots, or even local convenience store such as Duane Reade, Riteaid, or Walgreens.
Halloween Bat Decorating Ideas
- 1. Set bats on top of holiday cakes
- 2. Hang them outside on your doorstep like wind chimes
- 3. Glue them to door wreaths
- 4. Hang them inside kitchen cupboards to scare mom!
- 5. Tape them to the wall to look like a stream of flying bats
Fun Fact About Bats
What is a flying group of bats called?
A grouping of bats is referred to as a colony.
Halloween Flower Arrangements With Thematic Colors & Symbols
Black Cat Symbols
There are many animals associated with Halloween, but cats are usually the first type that come to mind. Cats are the most sweetest and lovable animals, sometimes. One of the most famous animals associated with Halloween, dark black cats have their own place in history too. Black Cat’s typically symbolize bad luck when they pass by you, your home, or a cemetery. They're also associated with witches, another symbol of Halloween. Black Cat symbols are used as decorations around the time of halloween typically as lawn ornaments or window decals. They can also be ideal for a Halloween costume or makeup design. In our opinion they're the most cute halloween symbols we celebrate with!
Halloween Black Cat Decorating Ideas
- 1. Adopt a real black cat and keep a long-lasting companion (hey why not?!)
- 2. Cut cats out of construction paper and tape them to door corners, mantles, and stairs
- 3. Paint a pumpkin black and tape on ears, then glue on green stones for eyes
- 4. Buy a plastic yard cat and glue black faux fur and eyes on for a crazed animal look
- 5. Hand out cat masks at your party (you can decorate them each differently by people's personalities!)
Fun Fact About Black Cats
What is the deciding factor for the color of a cat's fur coat?
Melanocytes and the level of a cat's melanin will determine the color and depth of their fur.
The traditional candle lit pumpkin is one of the best known symbols of Halloween. Typically during the scary holiday people will go for a day of pumpkin picking. The use of pumpkin picking is to pick out the perfect pumpkin and carve out different designs or symbols on the pumpkin itself such as witches, bats, ghosts, and cats, which gave the name Jack-O-Lanterns. When the Irish immigrants arrived in America, they brought with them the tradition of carving-out turnips and placing coals or a small candle inside the hollow. These were then displayed on doorsteps at Halloween to ward off evil spirits. In modern day, people similarly follow this tradition, but the meaning has evolved over the centuries. Due to our vast expanse of horror movies and famous scary pumpkin stories, the pumpkin symbol meaning is now vast and various for different peoples. Just remember that in whatever capacity it's featured, it's one of the most iconic Halloween symbols.
Halloween Jack O Lantern Decorating Ideas
- 1. Carve out the inside and fill with food colored water with floating plastic eye balls
- 2. Paint pumpkins in chic gold or white and glue sparkling resin stones on them
- 3. Carve the pumpkins face and hang dangling eyeballs in the eye sockets
- 4. Stack or nail 3 different sized pumpkins on top of each other with gradual facial changes
- 5. Carve both sides and place on your dinning table on a cake spinner with both happy and scary expressions
Fun Fact About Pumpkins
What's the most famous competitive pumpkin sport?
Pumpkin chunking! People get together to build catapults, vaults, guns and more compete to see who can chunk or throw a pumpkin the furthest!
Similar to cats and bats, spiders are a way to scare others in modern time Halloween by decorating or having fake spiders to make it seem real to trick others. Halloween's history is always full of dark elements that we enjoy turning into a good laugh. People also modernly draw or create a makeup style that represents spiders. Accessories such as earrings or necklaces can also have a shaped spider pendant. Spiders are typically very scary insects and represent the supernatural especially during Halloween.
Halloween Spider Decorating Ideas
- 1. Make fake cobwebs on any wall with white or black colored yarn
- 2. Hang spheres from the ceiling and wrap them in white spiderweb material to resemble caught prey or eggs
- 3. Tape or glue black a smaller black balloon to a larger one and add paper mache legs
- 4. Freeze spiders rings or fun toys in ice cubes as party favors(DO warn people before giving them the glass)
- 5. Make cupcakes and top with black sprinkles then add licorice for legs
Fun Fact About Spiders
What is the world's most dangerous spider that you're most likely to actually encounter in your lifetime?
Though small and for the most part nondescript other than a few red markings, the black widow spider's venom is potent.
What represents Halloween more than witches? Scary witches and Halloween history go way back to Salem years and other traditional stories. Some are eerily beautiful, and others are frightfully disgusting, but they do have one thing in common. They're all powerful and terrifying. Witches are the near image of evil and darkness, which is why people use witches today as a symbol for Halloween. Every year, people would use the symbol of a witch to scare others by wearing a old fashioned long black dress with a pointy top hat holding a broom. Movies are also a way that directors scare their audience by having an evil witch become the enemy of a hero in a film. Lock your doors, hide under your beds, because a witch can cast a spell on you!
Halloween Witch Decorating Ideas
- 1. Wear a witch costume! They come in scary, sexy, and even hideous types.
- 2. Set out pumpkins in the yard and glue witch hats on their tops
- 3. Use a projector at parties to post witches on the wall
- 4. Put large black witch stickers on windows, spooky ladies are home!
- 5. Stuff a witch scarecrow for your front yard and set a cauldron next to it
Fun Fact About Witches
What is the first kind of witch most people think of from history studies?
Though the witch symbol goes back as far as ancient pagan rituals long before, Halloween witches for most people conjures up tales of the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
Halloween Floral Arrangements
So what does Halloween symbolize exactly? It's nearly impossible to assign the same answer to every individual. Most of us are quite content to pass out candy and dress our children in fun costumes every year(and if we're lucky ourselves too). A time to enjoy family and friends along with an element of something frightening is a fun way to walk the line between safe and daring. Here are a few of our favorite Halloween flower arrangements ideas for those of you who will be enjoying family and friends and wish to share the spirit of the holiday together.