|The History of Halloween
Roots in the Celtic Festival of Samhain and the Christian Holiday All Saints' Day
is an annual holiday observed on October 31st. It has roots in the
Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints' Day,
but is today largely a secular celebration.
|| Samain is an ancient Pagan festival of the dead who are said to walk the earth one night of the year Christianity has changed our beliefs somewhat since then but we do celebrate Samin today its just that we call it Halloween.
Therefore Samhainaphobia is a fear of Halloween.
Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a
Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is,
the night before All Hallows Day.
Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English, All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556.
Common Halloween activities include trick-or-treating,
wearing costumes and attending costume parties, carving
jack-o'-lanterns, ghost tours, bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted
attractions, committing pranks, telling ghost stories or other
frightening tales, and watching horror films.
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes
that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman
feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of
the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic
festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin".
The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". A
similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half"
of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes
regarded as the "Celtic New Year".
The ancient Celts believed that the
border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain,
allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful
spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off
harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.
was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In
Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white
with masked, veiled or blackened faces.
Samhain was also a time to take stock of food
supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a
large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home
lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock
were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built
side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a
Another common practice was divination, which often involved the use of
food and drink. The name 'Halloween' and many of its present-day
traditions derive from the Old English era.
A jack-o'-lantern is
typically a carved pumpkin. It is associated chiefly with the holiday
of Halloween and was named after the phenomenon of strange light
flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o'-lantern.
In a jack-o'-lantern, typically the top is cut off, and the inside flesh
then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved onto
the outside surface, and the lid replaced. At night, a light is placed
inside to illuminate the effect.
The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century
and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even
("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.
Ireland and Britain, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from
vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede.
But not until 1837 does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved
vegetable lantern, and the carved lantern does not become associated
specifically with Halloween until 1866.
Significantly, both occurred not in Ireland or Britain, but in North America. Historian David J. Skal writes:
"Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that
vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween
celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation."
"In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British
holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns
in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of
the early twentieth century."
In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the
harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.
The poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was born in 1807, wrote 'The
Up through the early 20th century, the spelling "Hallowe'en" was frequently used, eliding the "v" and shortening the word. Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hálȝena
mæssedæȝ, the feast of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is itself not
attested until 1556.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed
over time encompassing customs of medieval holy days as well as
contemporary cultures. The souling practice of commemorating the souls
in purgatory with candle lanterns carved from turnips, became adapted
into the making of jack-o'-lanterns.
In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips were hollowed
out, carved with faces and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits.
The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America
where pumpkins are both readily available and much larger – making them
easier to carve than turnips.
Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a
frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark.
The American tradition of carving pumpkins preceded the Great Famine
period of Irish immigration and was originally associated with harvest
time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween
until the mid-to-late 19th century.
imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national
works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels
Frankenstein and Dracula),
and classic horror films (such as
Frankenstein and The Mummy).
Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent.
Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, magic, or
Traditional characters include ghosts, witches, skeletons, vampires,
werewolves, demons, bats, and black cats. The colours black and orange
are associated with the celebrations, perhaps because of the darkness of
night and the colour of fire, autumn leaves or pumpkins.
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween.
Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as
candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word
"trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the
homeowners or their property if no treat is given.
In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the
child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost
story, to earn their treats. The practice of dressing up in costumes and
begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle
Ages and includes Christmas wassailing.
The History of Halloween
resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would
go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1st), receiving food in return
for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2nd).
It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.
Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of
Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or
whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas."
The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to
Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate
them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young
men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.
American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote
the first book length history of the holiday in the US; The Book of
Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter "Hallowe'en in
America"; The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old
traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Hallowe'en as a
guide; or to go a-souling as the English used.
In short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of
fashion now. Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with 4,500
Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants
In her book, Kelley touches on customs that arrived from across the
Atlantic; "Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion
something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All
Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted
from those of other countries".
At the time of substantial transatlantic Scottish and Irish immigration
that brought the holiday to North America in the 19th century, Halloween
in Scotland and Ireland had a strong tradition of "guising" — Scottish
and Irish children disguised in costumes going from door to door
requesting food or coins.
The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English
speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston,
Ontario reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go
street "guising" on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and
neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and
Another isolated reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place
unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920. The earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appears in
1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada: Hallowe’en provided an opportunity
for real strenuous fun.
No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for
wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the
front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front
demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the
inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.
thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th
century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict
The editor of a collection of over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards
writes, "There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating]
or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we can tell
they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the
Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but not the means of appeasing them".
Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice
until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934,
and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after monsters such as
ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, the costume selection
extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and
generic archetypes such as ninjas and princesses.
Dressing up in costumes and going "guising" was prevalent in Scotland
and Ireland at Halloween by the 19th century. Costuming became popular
for Halloween parties in the US in the early 20th century, as often for
adults as for children.
The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the
1930s when trick-or-treating was becoming popular in the United States.
What sets Halloween costumes apart from costumes for other celebrations
or days of dressing up is that they are often designed to imitate
supernatural and scary beings.
Costumes are traditionally those of
monsters such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils, or in
more recent years such science fiction-inspired characters as aliens
There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents,
athletes, celebrities, or film, television, and cartoon characters.
Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men) to use
Halloween as an excuse to wear sexy or revealing costumes, showing off
more skin than would be socially acceptable otherwise.
Halloween costume parties generally fall on, or around, October 31st,
often falling on the Friday or Saturday prior to Halloween Costume
Big research conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation in
the United States and found that 53.3 percent of consumers planned to
buy a costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up $10
from the year before).
They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006, up significantly
from just $3.3 billion the previous year. The troubled economy has
caused many Americans to cut back on Halloween spending. In 2009, the
National Retail Federation anticipated that American households would
decrease Halloween spending by as much as 15% to $56.31.
Halloween and UNICEF
"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" has become a common sight during Halloween in North America.
Started as a local event in a Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood in
1950 and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves the
distribution of small boxes by schools (or in modern times, corporate
sponsors like Hallmark, at their licensed stores) to trick-or-treaters,
in which they can solicit small-change donations from the houses they
It is estimated that children have collected more than $118 million for
UNICEF since its inception. In Canada, in 2006, UNICEF decided to
discontinue their Halloween collection boxes, citing safety and
administrative concerns; after consultation with schools, they instead
redesigned the program.
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties.
One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, in which apples float in a
tub or a large basin of water and the participants must use their teeth
to remove an apple from the basin. A variant of dunking involves
kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop
the fork into an apple.
Another common game involves hanging up treacle or syrup-coated scones
by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain
attached to the string, an activity that inevitably leads to a very
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. A
traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an
apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The
peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future
Halloween and Ghost Stories
women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a
mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear
in the mirror.
However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear.
The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common
fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of television series and
Halloween-themed specials (with the specials usually aimed at children)
are commonly aired on or before the holiday, while new horror films are
often released theatrically before the holiday to take advantage of the
Haunted attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and
scare patrons. Most attractions are seasonal Halloween businesses.
Origins of these paid scare venues are difficult to pinpoint, but it is
generally accepted that they were first commonly used by the Junior
Chamber International (Jaycees) for fundraising.
They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides, and the level of
sophistication of the effects has risen as the industry has grown.
Haunted attractions in the United States bring in an estimate $300–500
million each year, and draw some 400,000 customers, although trends
suggest a peak in 2005.
This increase in interest has led to more highly technical special
effects and costuming that is comparable with that in Hollywood films.
Halloween and Candy
the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples
(known as toffee apples outside North America), caramel or taffy apples
are common Halloween treats made by rolling whole apples in a sticky
sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts.
One custom that
persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays,
the purchase) of a barmbrack, which is a light fruitcake, into which a
plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking.
It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the
ensuing year. This is similar to the tradition of king cake at the
festival of Epiphany.
At one time, candy apples were commonly given to
children, but the practice rapidly waned in the wake of widespread
rumors that some individuals were embedding items like pins and razor
blades in the apples.
While there is evidence of such incidents, they are quite rare and have
never resulted in serious injury. Nonetheless, many parents assumed that
such heinous practices were rampant because of the mass media.
At the peak of the hysteria, some hospitals
offered free X-rays of children's Halloween hauls in order to find
evidence of tampering. Virtually all of the few known candy poisoning incidents involved
parents who poisoned their own children's candy.
The names will-o'-the-wisp and jack-o'-lantern refer to an old folktale, retold in different forms across Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Appalachia, and Newfoundland.
One version, from Shropshire, recounted by K. M. Briggs in her book A Dictionary of Fairies, refers to Will the Smith. Will is a wicked blacksmith who is given a second chance by Saint Peter at the gates to Heaven, but leads such a bad life that he ends up being doomed to wander the Earth.
The Devil provides him with a single burning coal with which to warm himself, which he then used to lure foolish travellers into the marshes.
An Irish version of the tale has a ne'er-do-well named Drunk Jack or Stingy Jack who makes a deal with the Devil, offering up his soul in exchange for payment of his pub tab.
When the Devil comes to collect his due, Jack tricks him by making him climb a tree and then carving a cross underneath, preventing him from climbing down.
In exchange for removing the cross, the Devil forgives Jack's debt. However, because no one as bad as Jack would ever be allowed into Heaven, Jack is forced upon his death to travel to Hell and ask for a place there.
The Devil denies him entrance in revenge, but, as a boon, grants Jack an ember from the fires of Hell to light his way through the twilight world to which lost souls are forever condemned. Jack places it in a carved turnip to serve as a lantern.
Another version of the tale, "Willy the Whisp", is related in Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie. The first modern novel in the Irish language, Séadna by Peadar Ua Laoghaire, is a version of the tale.
Despite the falsity of these claims the news media promoted the story continuously throughout the 1980s, with local news stations featuring frequent coverage.
During this time cases of poisoning were repeatedly reported based on unsubstantiated claims or before a full investigation could be completed and often never followed up on.
This one sided coverage contributed to the overall panic and caused rival media outlets to issue reports of candy tampering as well.
By 1985, the media had driven the hysteria about candy poisonings to such a point that an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found 60% of parents feared that their children would be injured or killed because of Halloween candy sabotage.
Advice columnists entered the fray during the 1980s and 1990s with both Ann Landers and Dear Abby warning parents of the horrors of candy tampering.
"In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers." – Ann Landers
"Somebody's child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade." – Dear Abby
This collective fear also served as the impetus for the "safe" trick-or-treating offered by many local malls.
Halloween Influences in the World
Halloween is not celebrated in
all countries and regions of the world, and among those that do the
traditions and importance of the celebration vary significantly.
Celebration in the United States and Canada has had a significant impact on how the holiday is observed in other nations.
This larger North American influence, particularly in iconic and
commercial elements, has extended to places such as South America,
Europe, to Japan under the auspices of the Japanese Biscuit Association,
and other parts of East Asia.
Halloween and Religion
Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. In the Anglican
Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions
of All Saints’ Day, while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday
as Reformation Day, a day to remember the Protestant Reformation.
Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, "if
English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on
one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there
is no harm in that."
In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has
organized a "Saint Fest" on the holiday. Similarly, many contemporary
Protestant churches view Halloween as a fun event for children, holding
events in their churches where children and their parents can dress up,
play games, and get candy.
Popular Halloween Candy
List of foods associated with the holiday:
- Barmbrack (Ireland)
- Bonfire toffee (Britain)
- Candy apples
- Candy corn (North America)
- Caramel apples
- Caramel corn
- Colcannon (Ireland)
- Pumpkin, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
- Roasted sweet corn
- Soul cakes
- Novelty candy shaped like skulls, pumpkins, bats, worms, etc.
Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating
it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating "imaginary spooks"
and handing out candy.
To these Christians, Halloween holds no threat to the spiritual lives of
children: being taught about death and mortality, and the ways of the
Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life lesson and a part of
many of their parishioners' heritage.
In the Roman Catholic Church Halloween is viewed as having a Christian
connection, and Halloween celebrations are common in Catholic parochial
schools throughout North America and in Ireland.
Other Christians feel concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday
because they feel it trivializes - or celebrates - paganism, the occult,
or other practices and cultural phenomena deemed incompatible with
A response among some fundamentalist and conservative evangelical
churches in recent years has been the use of 'Hell houses', themed
pamphlets, or comic-style tracts such as those created by Jack T. Chick
in order to make use of Halloween's popularity as an opportunity for
Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian
faith because of its origin as a pagan "Festival of the Dead". For
example, Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Halloween because they
believe anything that originated from a pagan holiday should not be
celebrated by true Christians.
Celtic Pagans consider the season a holy time of year. Celtic
Reconstructionists, and others who maintain ancestral customs, make
offerings to the gods and the ancestors. Some Wiccans feel that the
tradition is offensive to Wiccan practitioners for promoting
stereotypical caricatures of "wicked witches".