Holidays That Originated in Ancient Societies
Have you ever blown out your birthday candles and wondered if our ancient ancestors did the same? Does the modern celebration of Halloween leave you wondering when these traditions started? Check out these three popular holidays that originated in ancient societies.
Everybody’s favorite candy-filled fall holiday has a long and storied history. This day of ghosts and goblins originated as a Celtic celebration called Samhain around 2,000 years ago. The Celts lived in what is now the UK and France, and Samhain was a festival held to bring in their New Year on November 1. They believed that as the season changed to winter, the line between the physical world and the paranormal world blurred, allowing them to communicate with spirits.
The holiday was considered pagan by the Catholic Church of Rome, and in 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV combined a similar celebration—All Saints’ Day—with the traditions of Samhain. This made it easier for European pagans to convert to Christianity, and over thousands of years, the holiday became associated with harmless trickery and candy.
Not everyone throws an elaborate sweet sixteen birthday party, but the origins of this celebration are quite interesting. Some believe the modern version of a sweet sixteen comes from a Latin quinceanera. This occurs on a girl’s 15th birthday and marks her transition into womanhood. These parties are a major milestone for Latin households and communities, and the girls are typically treated like royalty.
Another theory about the origin of the sweet sixteen comes from medieval Europe, but not for the reasons you’d think. Around the middle teenage years of a girl’s life, she would be treated to a special birthday celebration provided by the entire community. However, this occasion was not solely about her transition into womanhood; it also announced the girl’s eligibility for marriage. Birthday celebrations sure have changed throughout the years!
Bonus Fact: some believe that these ancient traditions were inspired by Jewish bar mitzvah celebrations, although those occasions were exclusive to boys for most of human history.
Labor Day is not exactlyan ancient holiday—it was first celebrated in 1894 in America, and it happens every year on May 1. However, there was an ancient Roman celebration on May 1 that has similarities to Labor Day. The Roman holiday honored the ancient goddess Maia, who represented fertility and the element of fire.
Rome dedicated the entire month to Maia and the name stuck, giving us May. The Christian church even celebrated on May 1 when it dominated Roman religion, but honored the Virgin Mary instead of Maia. While Labor Day isn’t directly related to an ancient holiday, it’s interesting that the turn-of-the-century labor movement in America falls on the same day as a celebration that gave the month of May its name.
These fun facts about popular celebrations give you a greater appreciation for holidays that originated in ancient societies. Humans have always recognized the importance of socializing with friends and family, and our ancient ancestors ensured that our calendar was chock-full of leisure, sweets, presents, and loved ones.