What Is Halloween? A Look Back at the Holiday’s Origins

History

| LAST UPDATE 10/03/2022

By Sharon Renee
Witch Trial Halloween History
Transcendental Graphics/Contributor via Getty Images

It is officially October, which means Halloween is nearly here! The traditions of Jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and dressing up in costume are activities everyone looks forward to each year. This year's Halloween will fall on Monday, October 31st. While figuring out what costume you will wear, do you know where these traditions began? Let's learn more about this rich holiday...

The origins of Halloween can be found in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. During the festival of Samhain, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. They would do this because the Celts believed that on October 31st, the worlds between the living and the dead were blurred, allowing ghosts to return to earth. So, they came up with rituals to ward off unwanted spirits. In fact, November 1st was the new year for the Celts because, for them, it marked the end of summer and the harvest. And it was the beginning of winter.

Carved Pumpkins Witches Halloween
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The Jack-o-lantern started in the Middle Ages when Celts would carve turnips that were strung up to sticks and had coals within. Trick-or-treating is supposedly derived from Irish and Scottish practices that in the nights leading up to October 31st, people would put on costumes and go door-to-door singing songs. In exchange for their services, they would be given cake. Eventually, as Christianity spread, a similar holiday called All Saints' Day, or All-hallows, was celebrated on November 1st. When people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and settled in America, they brought the tradition of Halloween with them. Except, it was not until the second half of the 19th century, when many Irish immigrated, that the holiday was popularized. Eventually, in the 1920s and 1930s, the holiday transformed into the secular holiday we recognize today.

Today's Halloween looks much different than the one that the Celtics practiced. While the traditions of dressing up remain, watching scary movies, and collecting candy may not be the same as warding off the dead and marking the end of the harvest season. The roots of the Celtic tradition live on within the festive holiday...

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