The History of Halloween

Halloween: A Multi-Cultural Holiday

Halloween, widely celebrated across the world, is the result of an ultimate clash of many cultures. There are countless factors that come into play, many crossover, in fact, to develop the holiday as we know it today. Possible forerunners to modern day trick-or-treating have been identified in ancient Celtic festivals, early Roman Catholic holidays, medieval practices and even British politics. It’s pretty safe to say that Halloween has become a very commercial celebration these days, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, it wasn’t even a commercial front runner until Walt Disney released the cartoon, “Trick-or-treat” in 1952!

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Walt Disney’s “Trick-or-treat”

Celtic Festivals

Also known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in), this is the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of “the dark days” or winter. This celebration goes from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st. Samhain is said to have pre-Christian roots and is very important in the Irish and Scottish cultures. Samhain was said to be the time when the unliving came back to Earth. It was traditional to dress up during Samhain to distract these dead spirits from wreaking havoc on the living’s lives. This could be the great ancestor of dressing up on Halloween. You can find hundreds of thousands of Samhain festivals around the world! If you’re one for Halloween, you need to find on near you!

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Samhain Festival

Medieval Times: Roman Catholic/Christian Holidays

As Christianity spread across the continent and around the world throughout the early centuries AD, events of worship were considered pagan and were forgotten or absorbed. This is true with All Hallow’s Eve/All Hallow’s Day/All Soul’s Day, which take place between October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd. At the risk of pagan holidays, the church had people dress up as Saints and Angels in addition to the traditional ghosts and devils. This showed the two sides of the church. Souling was practiced between Halloween and Christmas. This is a practice of traditionally beggars going from door to door begging for food and money in exchange of prayers for their deceased loved ones. This has been said to be the birth of “trick or treating.”

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There are many other cultures that tie into this celebration. So how are there so many cultures involved in one holiday? Well, back in the day, everyone was conquering everyone else. Along with that came adoption of many traditions. You’d be surprised to see how similar some beliefs are between cultures that are on opposite sides of the world.

Halloween today has changed largely into a more commercial holiday. People celebrate the harvest (unintentionally) with pumpkins – more specifically those awesome jack-o-lanterns – and the presence of the undead (zombies, Frankenstein, ghosts, etc.) in addition to more child friendly characters, as well. As pop culture started to blossom, so did the countless choices that became available to dress up as and decorate with. Whether you take your tots trick-or-treating (or souling….) or you’re going to rock out at a costume party, keep in mind how this sugar-filled, masked holiday came to date. Maybe this will make you want to stick to the roots of Hallowe’en and bring on the dead spirits! Whatever you choose, have a fun and safe Hallow’s Eve and don’t eat too much candy!


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