Origins of Halloween

published by Nicole Rajtak

Want to create a visual like this?

Get Started
By Nicole Rajtak
The Origins of Halloween
Pronounced Sa-when, Halloween originated 2,000 years ago in the British Isles with the Samhain celebration. It was held on November 1st and was a time of reflection on death and ancestors.
Druids used the time to don costumes and light bonfires to predict the future. 
November 2nd, All Souls Day, brought needy people door to door, begging for food in exchange for prayer for dead relatives. 
The day before, October 31st, was when the dead rumoured to return to earth. Thus began traditions based on superstition such as leaving out food and wine for the ghosts as well as dressing in masks when leaving the house to blend in with the spirits. 
The tradition of Trick or Treating comes directly from the Celtic tradition of Guising on All Hallows Eve.  
Children would dress up in costumes and ask for food, wine, or money in exchange for singing, telling jokes, or praying for relatives. 
This tradition was still going strong when the Great Potato Famine brought hordes of Irish and Scottish immigrants to the US in 1845, bringing guising with them.
Souling refers to when, on November 2nd, the needy would beg for soul cakes (small rolls referred to as souls) in exchange for prayer. They would sing a slight variation of the song included below. 
Some churches in the United States continue a variation of this practice in which they offer to give sweets and prayer. 
Pumpkins originate in Central America, untouched by Europe till 1502, thus 'jack-o-lanters' were created out of turnips in ancient Europe.
These carved turnips held lights and were used not only to light the way for masked travelers but also warded away spirits. 
8th Century Europe 
The Church, under Pope Gregory III, attempts to rebrand Samhain as the more Christian friendly All Saints Day. It was also referred to as All Hallows Eve, a perversion of the Middle English 'Alholowmese'. 
Colonial America
Celebration of All Hallows Eve was forbidden in Protestant New England but was freely practiced in states such as Maryland and Southern colonies. 
1800's America
Halloween was celebrated in America in a form more recognizable to modern day citizens, however a big push was made to rid Halloween of witchcraft and make it a more family friendly holiday centered on the community. 
1860's America
An article from a children's magazine reports skyrocketing purchases of pumpkins around Halloween, indicating a wildly popular new trend. 
1920-30's America
Halloween had essentially become it's modern day, secular version centered around the community. However, another reformative push was made, this time to have it focus entirely on small children. Celebrations were moved from streets to classrooms. 
Whether you celebrate Sanhaim or participate in the more American Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival in Delaware...