The History of Halloween

history of halloween

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Most modern day holidays have gone from simple celebrations to the commercial events we know today. But did you know that the history of Halloween actually started overseas?


Halloween actually dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). 2,000 years ago. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1. It marked the end of summer and the harvest and the start of the dark, cold winter.

It was believed by the Celtic’s that on the night before the New Year, the boundaries of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, and waited for the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people would burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. They would wear the animal head and skins as costumes.

The Romans

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. During the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, the following two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain:

  • Feralia commemorated the passing of the dead
  • Poman Day-the symbol of Pomona is the apple (probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples)

It is commonly accepted today that the pope was trying to attract Celtics to Christianity and attempted to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a similar, church-sanctioned holiday. The night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

By A.D. 1000, the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, it was a day to honor the dead. The celebration resembled Samhain and included the following:

  • Big bonfires
  • Parades
  • Dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.

Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.

By the mid 1800’s, annual autumn festivities were common. The celebrations were combined with Native Americans harvest celebrations. Adding Irish and English traditions,

Costumes and Trick-or Treat

Americans started to dress up in costumes and go house-to-house asking for food or money (trick or treat)

By the 1900’s, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate. The parties focused on games, food, and festive costumes and Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones

As the numbers of children celebrating increased from the 1950’s baby boom, the festivities moved from the community parties to home and school parties.

Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. It was also an attempt to prevent tricks being played by neighborhood children.

Today it has become a holiday where it is acceptable to reveal ones creative dark side and for children to collect large quantities of candy from strangers.

For safety reasons, trick-or-treating has declined and has returned to community and church groups providing a variety of celebrations to choose from.

Halloween can also be a celebration of autumn with a history and traditions that are unique to your family’s customs.


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