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A Brief History of Halloween

Modern Halloween is all about trick-or-treating, haunted houses, scary movies, and coming up with clever costumes. But how much do most people know about the origins of Halloween? 

Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic religion. It began as the festival of Samhain, which occurred during the seasonal transition to winter. During this time, the Celts believed that the barrier between the living and the dead blurred, allowing the dead to return to earth. Celts commemorated the event with bonfires, large gatherings, sacrifices and costumes. These lighthearted activities helped deal with the “hauntings” from spirits and the uncertainties that winter could bring. 

By the 9th century, when Christianity encroached on Celtic lands, the holiday evolved, becoming All Souls’ Day. All Souls’ Day, like Samhain, was meant to honor the dead, and people celebrated in similar ways to Samhain. The night before All Souls’ Day, which was the traditional night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve— our contemporary Halloween. 

Halloween became popular in the United States following the rise in Irish immigration during the second half of the 1800s. Halloween started to become a neighborly event with less fixation on ghosts and witchcraft. Superstition and religious aspects of Halloween ultimately gave way to the notion of Halloween as a secular, party-based holiday. Trick-or-treating became more mainstream in the early to mid-1900s, born out of parental hopes that providing treats to children would prevent kids from getting into mischief. 

From here, we get the Halloween that we know today: a day all about costumes, parties, candy— and just a little bit of mischief.


Taylor is an alumnus of Michigan State University's James Madison College and Honors college, holding a Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations and Policy and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. She formerly served as the Editor-in-Chief and co-Campus Correspondent of MSU's chapter. She works in Lansing She's passionate about women's rights, smashing the patriarchy, and adding to her fuzzy sock collection.
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