The Haunting History of Halloween

Skeletons near white concrete building with string lights

Skeletons near white concrete building with string lights
Halloween is one of the most popular days of the year – when revelers dress up in clever costumes and gorge themselves on candy and delicious fall treats. It is not just another modern holiday, however. It can be traced back over 2,000 years to a supernatural Celtic festival called “Samhain.”

The word “Halloween” is an extension of the contracted word “Hallowe’en,” which means “hallowed evening.” It refers to the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, which falls every October 31st, the day before the Christian festival All Saints’ Day. The combination of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is known as Allhallowtide – a three-day celebration of the dead.

In the 8th century, the Celtic people believed that the dead were closest to the living during the celebration of the fall harvest. To entice departed loved ones to return to earth, the Celts offered food and other gifts to the spirit world.

Pope Gregory III later repurposed the pagan holiday into a series of Catholic celebrations – creating the three days of Allhallowtide.

While Halloween got its start as a way to honor the dead with dignity and somber respect, it has evolved since the 8th century. Today, it is celebrated on October 31st with beloved traditions like trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, and costume parties. Even these modern traditions are steeped in history, however.

The Celts believed that ghosts would dress up like beggars during Allhallowtide and trick people into giving them food and money. Today, children dress up in costumes and sing out “trick or treat!” as they go from door to door seeking candy.

Other traditions, like carving jack-o’-lanterns are also rich in Celtic history, with legend claiming that the ghost of a man named “Stingy Jack” travels the swamps with a ghostly lantern that he carved from a turnip.

While every country celebrates it a bit differently, Halloween is a day of fun, food, and frivolity for kids and kids at heart.