Origins of Halloween

Sarah Kanas, Writer

When we think of the month of October, we think of Halloween. Halloween is a celebration that is observed in several countries and it comes on the 31st of October; which is the last day of the month. It is known as the Eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallow’s Day and begins a three-day observance of Allhallowtide. The holiday is also the time in the liturgical year dedicated to the dead, the saints also known as the hallows, the martyrs and the faithful departed from Earth (

Ancient Origins

The ancient origins of Halloween all started with the Celtic festival of Samhain. The day marked the end of the summer and harvest and the beginning of a dark and cold winter in that time of year often associated with human death. The Celts, known as the tribes with origins in central Europe sharing a similar language, religious beliefs, traditions and culture lived 2,000 years ago spread throughout Western Europe including Britain, Ireland, France and Spain. They believed that the boundary between the worlds of living and death became buried on the night before the new year. They also believed that ghosts of the dead return to Earth once a year. The Celts also believed that there are prophecies of predictions about the future and the presence of the otherworld spirits are an important source of comfort and direction during the long dark winter.In those ancient times, the Druids built huge sacred bonfires for burning crops and sacrificing animals to Celtic deities until the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic territory in 43 A.D. Thus, the Roman Empire ruled the Celtic lands in 400 years. During that time, two festivals of the Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebrationof Samhain. Those two festivals were called Feralia; which was the day in late October when Romans commemorated the passing of the dead and the Day to honor Pomona, known as the Roman goddess of the fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona represents the apple and the incorporation of the celebration into Samhain that explains the tradition of bobbing for apples.

All Saints’ Day

All Saint’s Day started on May 13th in 609 A.D. In that time, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome and people would honor all the Christian martyrs. There was even a Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day, which was a day established in the Western church and Christianity started to spread into the Celtic lands in the 9th century. On November 2ed, All Souls Day became a day to honor the dead in 1000 A.D. Later, the church attempted to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related church-sanctioned holiday and was celebrated similarly to Samhain with bonfires, parades, costumes as saints, angels and devil. that holiday became known as All-hallows. All-hallows or All-hallowmas was established as the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion later known as All-Hallows Eve.

Halloween in America

Halloween became extremely limited in New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems, but it became more common in Maryland, Virginia after becoming established in America. Thus, Halloween emerged with play parties which were held in public events to celebrate the harvest and stories of the dead began to spread. There were also fortunes to tell, dances to dance and songs related to Halloween for people to sing. Even the festivities were evolving featuring ghost stories and mischief-making and animal autumn festivities were common. However, Halloween was not celebrated in every country. Some countries celebrate different holidays in October which might be Reformation Day. Within the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants who helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.


When the practise trick-or-treating was first invented, Americans would dress up in costumes and walk from house to house asking for food or money; although trick-or-treaters of today ask for candy and carmen apples. Yet, the practise became the tradition of Halloween today. Although trick-or-treating was known for asking for treats and walking from house to house on Halloween night, young women believed they would divine the name or appearance of their future husband by playing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors. In the late 1800s, the people of America made a move. They molded Halloween into a holiday that was more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. The parties became the most common way to celebrate for children and adults including games, food and festive costumes. The parents would take anything frightening and grotesque out of the celebrations and Halloween lost most of the superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Halloween Parties and Movies

Halloween parties we established from the 1920s to the 1930s. They were secular, but the community centered the holiday. The parties and parades are featured entertainment and still are going strong today. However, Vandalism plagued some celebrations in many communities. In the 1950s, the town leaders limited vandalism and Halloween evolved into a holiday directed mainly to the young. The parties moved from town civic centers into school classrooms or home and became more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was revived. Trick-or-treating became the relatively inexpensive way to share the celebration and families prevented tricks by giving children small treats. The movies for Halloween have a long history of being box office hits. Classic movies include “Halloween” franchise based on the 1978 original film directed by John carpenter including a classic horror film with a spooky soundtrack that inspired eleven other films and “slasher films” such as “Scream”, “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13”. Family-friendly Halloween movies include Hocus-Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

All Souls Day and Soul Cakes

All Souls Day an American Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating dates back to the early prades in England on which poor citizens beg for food and families give pastries, known as soul cakes in return for their promise to pray for family dead relatives. This holiday includes the tradition of dressing in costume with European and Celtics roots. Winter was an uncertain and frightening time hundreds of years ago and there were low food supplies as well as people who were afraid of the dark and short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, people thought they would encounter ghosts if departing their homes, yet they wore masks to avoid being recognized by ghosts when leaving their homes after dark. People also keep ghosts away from their house by placing bowls of food outside to prevent them from attempting to enter.

Black Cats and Ghosts

When it comes to black cats and ghosts, Halloween was indeed a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It started as a Celtic end-of-summer festival and people were close to their deceased relatives and friends. As for Halloween of today, ghosts often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent, yet our customs and superstitions were scarier and we avoid crossing paths with black cats, because we fear they might bring bad luck. The roots of black cats and ghost all started in the Middle Ages when many people believed witches avoided detection by turning themselves into black cats. The Egyptians believed triangles were sacred in time of B.C. Also on Halloween, we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road and spilling salt.

Halloween Matchmaking and Lesser-Known Rituals 

As the years go by, the Halloween traditions and beliefs of today’s trick-or-treaters have been forgotten. The reason why is because obsolete rituals focused on future instead of the past and the living instead of the dead. Many had to do with helping young women identify their future husbands and assure them they would someday be married by Halloween. In 18th century Ireland, a matchmaking cook would bury a ring in a woman’s mashed potatoes on Halloween night and hope to bring true love to dinner to who found it. In Scotland, eligible young women name a hazelnut for each suitor and toss nuts into the fireplace until one nut is burned to ashes representing the girl’s future husband. The opposite of that tradition is that the nut is burned away, symbolizing that love would not last. Young women at the sugary concoction made out of walnuts, hazelnuts and nutmeg before bed on Halloween. They also tossed apple peels over their shoulders and the peels fall on the floor in shape of the future husbands’ initials. Afterwards, women learn about their futures by perring at egg yolks floating in a bowl of water and stand in front of the mirrors in darkened rooms holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their husbands’ faces. Other rituals are more competitive. For example, a first guest at some Halloween parties finds a burr on a chestnut-hunt. The guest would also be the first to marry and at others, the first successful apple-bobber as well as the first down the aisle. Each of these Halloween superstitions rely on goodwill of the very same “spirit” whose presence the early Celts felt so keenly (