Where Did Halloween Come From?

Halloween is a holiday that brings excitement to children and adults alike. It is a time when costumes are worn and treats are given to children as they go door-to-door. Costume parties are common entertainment for celebrating the festive holiday. Many of the celebrants are unaware of the origin of Halloween.

The Origin of Halloween

Originally it was a celebration by the Celts who were heralding summer’s end. The Celts were a group of people who inhabited the lands of England, Ireland and northern France before the expansion of the Catholic Church over 2,000 years ago. They were farmers, and the harvest was the end of the year for them.

October 31st was a New Year’s Eve type celebration called “Samhain” which was named after the Lord of the Dead. The Druids, who were Celtic priests, ruled over the celebration. The Celts believed that ghosts were allowed to roam the earth and because of this, they thought the priests would be able to more accurately predict the future with their assistance. The Druids predictions were a comfort to the Celtic people during the cold, dark winter.

The celebration of Samhain included bonfires where they sacrificed animals and crops to their gods.  They dressed up in costumes, usually animal heads and skins, to appease evil spirits and protect themselves from them, and told fortunes to one another.  It was also a time for crazy behavior, usually harmless pranks, and children would go to their neighbors and ask for food.

Eventually, the Romans conquered the Celts, and combined two festivals with Samhain. One was Feralia, a day for honoring the dead, and the second was a day to honor Pamona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Pamona’s symbol was the apple, which was part of the celebration and believed to be the origin of the practice, “Bobbing for Apples”. Christianity came to the Celts around the 800s, and the festival was replaced with All Saints Day, a time to honor martyrs and saints, on November 1st. The word “Allholowmesse” is from Middle English and means All Saints Day.

The day was called All-hallows or All-Hallowmas, and the night before was then called All-hallows Eve. Eventually this term morphed into Halloween.

Customs of Halloween

Trick-or- treating also came from a tradition in Europe called “souling”. Beggars would go door-to-door asking for soul cakes. If they received one, they would promise to pray for their dead relatives. It was believed that the beggar’s prayers would lead their souls into heaven.

Carving pumpkins comes for Ireland, where they carved turnips to symbolize the dead. When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found the pumpkins to be plentiful and started using them instead.

During medieval times, it was believed that witches could turn into black cats. The cats were then associated with evil and many were killed. Today, black cats and witches are a big part of Halloween.

The colors black and orange are used because black stands for darkness or death, and orange is the color of the harvest.

Today, Halloween is second only to Christmas in spending. Consumers will spend over $2.5 Billion during Halloween. That’s a whole lot of candy, costumes decorations and party good.


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