The History of Halloween


Photo Credit: Victorianna Beels

Victorianna Beels, Copy Editor/ Business Manager

   Halloween: the holiday of spooky costumes and free candy. Although this holiday is a fun, exciting day of the year, why do we celebrate Halloween? Where did this wonderfully horrifying holiday come from?

   The origin of Halloween dates back to Europe 2,000 years ago. The Celts inhabited the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. The Celts ended their year on November first. This day marked the end of the summer: the warm, harvest months, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter that they often associated with human death.

   The Celts believed that the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead combined. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in), when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to the Earth.

   To commemorate Samhain, the Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the Celts gathered to burn crops, sacrifice animals to the Celtic deities, and wore costumes typically consisting of the heads and skins of various animals.

   By the 9th century, the influence of the widely growing Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with the older Celtic culture. In 1000 CE, the church made November 2nd All Souls’ Day: a day to honor the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace Samhain with a related, church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, including the big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. All Saints’ Day was also referred to as All-hallows (from the Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day). They began calling the night before All-hallows, the traditional night of the Celtic festival, All-Hallows Eve, eventually leading to the now commonly known and celebrated, Halloween.

   Colonial America saw the first Halloween celebrations. The first celebrations included “play parties,” which were public events held to celebrate the harvest for the year. Neighbors throughout the colonies would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance, and sing. These festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and making mischief of all kinds.

   By the middle of the nineteenth century, these annual autumn festivals were common, but were not celebrated at a national level until the end of the century. In the second half of the century, America was flooded with new immigrants from Europe who helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween.

   Borrowing from the European traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go from house to house begging for food and money, a practice that eventually evolved into today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.

   In the late 1800s, there was a movement in America to mold Halloween into a community holiday more than the ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft. With the arrival of the new century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became a common, ideal way to celebrate the day. These parties were focused on games, foods, and festive costumes. Many of the community members were encouraged by the press and leaders to take the “frightening” and “grotesque” out of Halloween.

   Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for the entire community to share in the Halloween celebration and would also prevent tricks from being played on the family as they provide the children with small treats and candy.

   From this day on,  a new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow at a monsterous rate. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday following Christmas.

Photo Credit: Victorianna Beels
Spooky scary skeleton climbing up house as a decoration for the upcoming holiday.
Photo Credit: Victorianna Beels