History of Halloween: Facts & Traditions

Instructor: Deanna Reid

Deanna has taught at the elementary and middle school level and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education K-8.

When and where did Halloween begin? What Halloween traditions exist around the world? This lesson answers these questions as it explains the history of Halloween and how it is celebrated.

Trick or Treat!

Most of us in America have been dressing up as our favorite monster or superhero on one night a year our whole lives, sometimes receiving a bucket or pillowcase full of candy for the trouble of ringing our neighbors' doorbells and proclaiming 'Trick or treat!' I'm of course talking about Halloween. But what you might not know is that this holiday beloved by children and adults alike has a history that stretches back millennia!

The Ancient Celtic Origin of Halloween

Halloween is a celebration of the supernatural believed to have originated over 2,000 years ago among the Celtic people, who comprised the early tribes of Europeans that lived in France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. November 1 was the beginning of the Celtic new year and was considered the first day of the winter season called Samhain and the end of the harvest and warm weather. The evening before, October 31, was called 'Samhain's Eve,' and on this evening they believed that the barrier between the living and the dead was temporarily lifted and the ghosts of the dead could roam the earth causing problems and wreaking havoc on the world.

Oweynagat Cave in Ireland from where otherworldly spirits are said to emerge on October 31
Oweynagat Cave

Some Celtic people would play jokes and perform mischievous acts in order to imitate the so-called ghosts. Other superstitions involved ancient people trying to get the attention of the ghosts and distract them by leaving food outside, painting their faces, or wearing a mask so that they would leave the families alone. These two practices led to the modern continuance of pranking, wearing costumes and dispensing candy as part of the traditional 'trick-or-treating' on Halloween day mentioned above.

Trick-or-Treating Children
Trick-or-Treating Children

The Christian Influence on Halloween

In the 8th century, November 1 was made into a holiday called 'All Saint's Day' by Pope Gregory III. Some think that this was in order to take the focus off of the pagan (which, according to the Church, meant 'heathen' or 'agnostic') rituals. October 31st then was called 'All Hallow's Eve', which eventually came to be called Halloween. These beliefs came along with the people who immigrated to America from Europe, mainly from Ireland, in the 1800s.

Halloween Traditions Around the World

How do people celebrate Halloween all over the world? Let's take a look at some countries and their traditions.

Turnip Jack-o-Lantern
Turnip Jack-o-Lantern

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