Halloween; A Horrifying History

There’s a knock at the door. Who can it be? As the door opens, there stands on the porch a small Ghostface and a Carrie White stand with their bags out screaming “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!”

It’s October 31 and parents, teens and children alike go house to house in each neighborhood to ask for candy and food on Halloween. But where did this special night come from?

The Halloween we know is all about costumes, candy, and scary tales of headless horsemen. Yet have you ever wondered why we celebrate it this day the way we do? Or how certain traditions vary?

There are many origins to this festive night, but there are three main ancestors; the Celts, Ancient Romans and Early Christians. You’re probably wondering “Is Halloween that old?!”. Not really, at least modern day Halloween. 

According to the Britannica Encyclopedia “Halloween’s origins can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which was held on November 1 in contemporary calendars” 

This Celtic festival celebrated to mark the start of the winter and it was believed that the spirits of the dead came back, which led to people dressing up to avoid being recognized by them. 

It’s also because of Samhain that we associate demons, witches and other magical creatures to modern day Halloween.

Another origin of Halloween we know is when the Ancient Romans conquered what’s present day Great Britain, they added two festivals of their own.

According to the History “The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally come rated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.”

Because of these two festivals being incorporated into Samhain, the long standing tradition of bobbing for apples was created.

Lastly, the most recent ancestor of Halloween is when Early Christianity was the most important religion in the Middle Ages.

According to the University at Albany, “Pope Gregory IV wanted to substitute Samhain with All Saint’s Day in 835, but All Soul’s Day which is closer in resemblance to Samhain and Halloween today, was “first instituted at a French monastery in 998 and quickly spread  throughout Europe”.

When Christianity adopted the holiday and it spread across Europe, many other local traditions were implemented, allowing modern activities we know form. 

Halloween has evolved and will continue to, but the question is how did this holiday go from a religious day to a night where we prank, eat and party here and in the rest of the world.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Halloween came to be celebrated in Canada when,”The massive influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the mid-1800s that Halloween celebrations were introduced to Canada. The first recorded instance in North America of children dressing in disguise was in Vancouver, BC, in 1878.”

With the now secular holiday being celebrated, the new term “Trick or Treat” came into use. The origin of this phrase came from, “Britain in the late-18th century and came to be associated with the night of 30 October, also known as Devil’s Night — had become commonplace in Canada by the 1920s.”

To recap the long history of Halloween, it went from being a Celtic ritual to a Catholic Saints day to long night of candy, costumes, pranks and partying for those 18 and over. To close this chilling chapter, the Halloween we know and love has changed to accommodate the various cultural traditions from all over into one night of celebration.