Ancient Times: Halloween Begins as Samhain
Two thousand years ago, the ancient Celts living in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, marked the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice as Samhain. During this time each year, people would extinguish the hearth fires in their homes, signifying the end of the harvest season. Once the harvest was complete, celebrants, accompanied by Druid priests, would light large bonfires and offer prayers. The Celts believed that during the festival of Samhain, the barrier between the material world and the spirit world could be crossed. They hoped their ancestors could traverse time and space during this period to reunite with long-lost loved ones.
10th Century: Samhain Is Christianized
In the 7th century, the Catholic Church designated November 1st as All Saints' Day to commemorate all the saints within the Church. By the 9th century, Christian influence had made its way to Celtic lands, gradually merging with and replacing ancient Celtic rituals. In the year 1000, the Church established November 2nd as All Souls' Day to honor the deceased. It is widely believed that the Church sought to supplant the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, Church-sanctioned holiday.
The celebration of Halloween is also known as All Hallows' or All Hallows' Eve (derived from Middle English Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints). The evening preceding Halloween, traditionally the night of the Celtic religious festival of Samhain, began to be known as All Hallows' Night and eventually evolved into Halloween. Over many centuries, these three festivals—Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day—essentially merged into one: Halloween. (The Catholic Church still recognizes All Saints' and All Souls' Days, while some witches and Celtic reconstructionists commemorate all three.)
The Middles Ages: Trick-or-Treating Emerges
In the Halloween and All Souls' Day celebrations of England and Ireland, the tradition of "soulling" involved poor individuals visiting the homes of the wealthier, receiving pastries known as "soul cakes" in exchange for a promise to pray for the homeowner's deceased relatives. This custom was later embraced by children, who would go from house to house seeking food, money, or gifts, including ale, and this eventually evolved into the early practice of "trick-or-treating."
19th Century: Jack-o-Lanterns Take Shape
The tradition of carving faces into vegetables, dating back to around the 19th century, is associated with Halloween in Ireland and Scotland. The Jack-o'-lantern has its origins in an Irish myth that tells the story of a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack" who deceived the devil and was forced to wander the earth with only a coal burning inside a turnip to light his way. People began creating their versions of Jack-o'-lanterns, carving eerie faces into turnips or potatoes, and placing them in windows or by the door to ward off Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits.
1950s: Halloween Costumes Go Mainstream
From the inception of Halloween, costumes and masquerade have been integral to its celebrations. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that costumes began to take on the familiar forms we know today. Around the same time, communities began organizing haunted houses and similar activities to ensure the safety and enjoyment of children. Costumes became increasingly important, transitioning from more abstract and spooky designs to representations of things children had seen and liked, such as popular radio programs, comic characters, and movie figures.
Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated on October 31st, and in 2023, Halloween falls on a Tuesday, October 31st. It's worth noting that the way Halloween is celebrated can vary by location and individual preference. While Halloween has its historical and cultural roots, it has evolved into a fun holiday that allows people to enjoy spooky and imaginative activities