The History of Halloween

Little is known about the history of Halloween. Yet, our costumes seem to resemble items of the past. We dress as characters in movies, we dress as past decades, and we dress as historical figures- but what do we know about Halloween itself?

This holiday actually originated with the Celtic Festival of Samhain, an event where people would light bonfires and dress in costume to ward off ghosts and spirits. The Celts, who resided in what was then Ireland, celebrated their New Year's Day on November 1st. This day was the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark season known as winter that would bring death to many. On the night between October 31st and November 1st, the dead and the living blurred-there was no boundary between the two realms.

In the 8th century, the Pope designated November 1st as All Saints Day to honor spirits with the same events that occurred at the Celtic Festival. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, later known as Halloween. By the 9th century, Christianity had spread into Celtic land. The religion mixed with previous Celtic practices throughout the decades. It is believed that, during this time, the church attempted to turn the Celtic ceremony into a church-sanctioned activity.

During the Colonial time period, the celebration of Halloween was extremely limited. As Native American and European cultures began to mix, an Americanized version of Halloween came to fruition. The first version came as “play parties”, where people gathered to share stories about the dead, tell fortunes, and dance.

After the Potato Famine, the flood of immigrants into the country contributed to the change in our traditions. America began to encourage neighborhoods gathering together to celebrate this holiday in the 1800’s, and the event called Trick-or-Treating was created. Later in the 1800’s, parents were encouraged to take anything “grotesque” out of their Halloween celebrations. These occurrences led to the Halloween that we celebrate today.

Halloween has a long and surprisingly interesting history. Not many people realize how much culture is involved in this holiday, but the melting pot of America has surely contributed to our modern-day celebration.