A Brief History of Halloween

Trick or Treat! There’s more than meets the eye to Halloween. So where does the story begin? Well, it wasn’t in the U.S. and it was pretty different from what we know as Halloween today.

Its roots started thousands of years ago with the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced ‘saw-wen’ or ‘sow-win’). Samhain means “summer’s end” and the festival was to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the start of fall. This day also was the last of the year for them as they celebrated the new year on November 1st. The Celt’s believed that on this day the barrier between the world of the living and dead was the thinnest, so it was the day that ghosts could return for a brief period.

Changing of the Seasons

This day would also be a time of preparation for the winter by stocking food stores. Part of this included slaughtering cattle and they would dispose of the bones in fires which are believed to be where we get ‘bonfires’ from. They would also host community gatherings to feast and celebrate. Due to the belief of potentially seeing otherworldly visitors, many would disguise themselves in some form or another to be less recognizable to potentially ill-wishing visitors. This is the very beginning of costumes on Halloween.

Little Marais. Image Credits: woodscreekproductions

Urban Foraging Tote. Image Credits: woodscreekproductions

All-Hallows Eve

As time passed, the Roman empire conquered more and more of the Celtic territory, and eventually, the majority of Celtic land had been taken over and Roman-origin festivals were combined with the Celtic ones. This combination and the eventual influence of the Church started to significantly affect the traditions that were in place. One of the largest influences was Pope Gregory III moving All Saint’s Day, a Catholic festival, from May 13th to November 1st. The movement of All Saint’s Day, also known as All-Hallows, turned the day that was originally Samhain into All-Hallows Eve which is where we get Halloween from. 

Voyage Across the Sea

As Europeans started moving to America, they brought along with them these traditions. As the different cultures and ethnic groups started to come together, an American version of Halloween started to form. Some of the traditional aspects remained such as it is a day to honor those that had passed and celebrate the harvest. They also would have parties to celebrate and dance and sing. These celebrations also included ghost stories as well as many younger folks getting into mischief. These forms of celebrations were prevalent but they would vary based on where they were taking place, it had not yet become a widespread celebration. It would be the emigration of many Irish families in the late 19th century that would help turn Halloween into the national holiday it is today.


Trick-or-treating comes from the tradition of ‘souling’ which originated in Europe. This was a practice of people going house to house to pray over the families and in return, they would receive what was called a ‘soul-cake’. This practice adapted over time and turned into what we see today which is people dressing up and going door to door to ask for candy. 

There is so much to the history of Halloween and if you are interested I highly recommend looking it up and reading about it as it is very interesting. This article aims to give a little insight into where the practices we see today came from. 


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