History of Halloween

I briefly attended a private southern Baptist High School where I was told not to celebrate Halloween. During Homecoming week, one of our spirit days was ‘holiday day,’ where students dress up in their favorite festive holiday gear. The school encouraged us to dress as Christmas, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and others, but they repeatedly reminded us that we were not allowed to wear Halloween costumes. I didn’t understand why my teachers called Halloween a Pagan or satanic holiday––isn’t Halloween just about kids getting candy? Halloween, it turns out, entails so much more than candy and costumes.  

Halloween jack-o-lantern mug filled with candy corn Photo by Sarah Gualtieri from Unsplash

Halloween is not Pagan or satanic in origin. Halloween began in Ireland by Celts as a festival called Samhain, which marked the beginning of winter. The festival, which started around 2,000 years ago, was traditionally Catholic. The day after Halloween, All Saints Day is traditionally celebrated in the Christian faith; it is a day to remember the departed and is linked to the celebration of Samhain. The Celts wore costumes so ghosts would not bother them, and they made bonfires to ward off evil spirits. On Halloween night, the Celts would later set out a bowl of food for the spirits passing through; this is thought to explain how trick or treating started. Even the traditional Halloween colors of orange and black originate from the Celts–– black represents death, and orange represents fall

If Halloween is originally a Catholic holiday, then why do we associate it with Satan and Paganism? One factor that influenced the societal view of Halloween is Devil’s Night in Detroit during the 1970s. Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween, is a night where severe acts of vandalism and arson are committed, especially to abandoned properties. It started as “mischief night” with small pranks like teepeeing houses, but it was renamed as the years passed with more criminal acts. While destructive activities on Devil’s Night have been on a steady decline for years, some Americans are still terrified of a revamping of Devil’s Night. Even with the cultural push of horror movies and scary costumes, Halloween, fundamentally, has nothing to do with the devil. 

Around 2,000 years after the first celebration of Samhain in Ireland, we celebrate Halloween quite differently in the United States. Instead of consciously making an effort to hide from the dead, we dress in costumes that can range from adorable to terrifying. We watch horror movies like Halloween or The Nightmare on Elm Street; we have Halloween parties and eat candy; we carve Jacko-lanterns (which happens to derive from an Irish folklore about a man named Jack playing a trick on the devil.) We embrace fear and go to haunted houses. Halloween has strayed far from its Celtic roots.

Halloween may no longer be celebrated as a Catholic religious holiday, but it certainly isn’t satanic in nature, even with its spooky connotations. Halloween has nothing to do with the devil, and that narrative can be problematic. Halloween is a fun day of the year where one can dress as anything and eat as much candy as they’d like, and it’s as simple as that. 

a girl in a chair saying halloween is cool The Walt Disney Company / Giphy