Understanding Halloween History


As October 31 approaches, we prepare for another day of trick or treating, costumes, costume parties, and scares. Halloween is one of the most celebrated festivities across the US and Canada, even though its celebration has spread to other parts of the world. The tradition originated from the festival of Samhain, a Gaelic festival for which celebrations began on the 31st of October even though the primary event is held on the 1st of November and passed into the next day.

The Celts from 20 A.D believed that the spirit of the dead returned to the land of the living to hunt them and they had to undertake steps to ward off these wandering souls. They dressed in scary outfits to trick the ghosts into thinking they were one of them, and they lit bonfires to drive the ghosts away. Several celebrations around the world mimic the spookiness of Halloween despite not being tied to the celebration of Halloween. Through the ages, the many traditions of the festival have evolved into what we have now. Below we analyze some of the activities of Halloween and their origin stories.

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Pumpkins & Jack-o’-lantern

One of the popular gimmicks of Halloween is carving pumpkins into the scary and lit face of a Jack-o’-lantern. People cut the pumpkins into a scary face with candlelight illuminating its insides. People leave the pumpkins on the doorstep to scare visitors and also light up the place. The idea stems from an Irish mythological fellow named Jack who was so stingy his soul did not enter heaven or hell. According to beliefs, his spirit is left to wonder the human world, and Irish people started carving these pumpkins to scare his spirit away.

Trick or Treat?

There are several accounts about the origin of this Halloween tradition. It can be traced to the Celts, early Roman Catholics, and the British. For trick or treat, children go door to door ringing bells, and the homeowners fill their little baskets with goodies. No one is entirely sure how this tradition emanated with different accounts expounding different stories. The popular theory is the assumption that the tradition descended from mumming and guising. People used to disguise themselves and go from house to house asking for food and this has become a staple of the Halloween celebration.

How Did This Celt Tradition Become So American?

Immigration. As the original Celts moved away from their habitation due to famine in the 19th century, they carried their culture along with them. It seeped into North American culture and transformed into the festivity that is celebrated today. Of course, certain things have evolved from what they used to be but the basic components of the festivity remain. Modern-day Halloween celebration is for kids as their parents dress them up to go trick or treating. Adults are not left out too as they throw parties where people have to dress up as different scary characters or anything at all sometimes.


One cannot deny the impact of Christianity and foreign input on a tradition born out of Samhain. The tradition has undergone numerous touches across time but the basic tenets are still celebrated to date. Costume wearing, costume parties, bonfire lighting, pranks, scary stories, carving pumpkins in Jack-o’-lanterns, etc. It may not bear the gory seriousness it bore for the Celts about 2000 years ago, but the core principles and activities that marked the celebration in those days are still carried in cuter doses today. October 31st is around the corner, it is time to start getting those costumes ready!


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