Sarah Hazelwood

The history of Halloween

Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition, but amid all the commercialisation, haunted houses and spooky stories, the origins of Halloween are often overlooked. Halloween actually has a rich and interesting history and there’s much more to this spooktacular event than meets the eye…

Halloween is thought to have originated 2,000 years ago, when the Celts celebrated their new year with the Ancient Celtic Festival of Samhain, on 1 November. The festival marked the end of summer and the start of the cold, winter nights.

During Samhain the last crops were gathered in for winter and livestock killed and stored. But, pagan Celts also believed that on the night before Samhain, the boundary between the living and the dead blurred, allowing ghosts to pass through.

To commemorate the event they lit huge bonfires and wore scary costumes to try and ward off any evil spirits who were believed to roam freely and play tricks on the living. It is possible that this ancient practice later led to the well-known tradition of trick or treating.

So, where does the name Halloween come from?

The name Halloween is a shortening of All Hallows’ Eve – the evening before All Saint’s day, which comes from a Christian move by Pope Gregory III and Gregory IV, to remember those who died for their beliefs.

All Saints Day was originally celebrated on 13 May, but it was Pope Gregory who moved the feasts to 1 November – the same day as the Samhain festival. It’s believed the move was to try and replace the festival completely, with a church approved celebration.

Over time the night before All Saints Day became known as Halloween – a time when magic is at its most potent. Today, Halloween is a fun-filled event across the globe, for parents and children alike. It most often features apple bobbing, ghost stories, spooky costumes and carving faces into Pumpkins.

Talking of pumpkins…

The classic carved grinning pumpkin or jack-o’-lantern, as it is otherwise known, is both a new and ancient practice. It’s originally believed to come from an old Irish legend of a man called Stingy Jack – a miserable farmer, who played a trick on the devil.

As punishment he was cursed to wander the earth, lighting his way with a candle inside a hollowed out turnip. When the tradition moved to America, pumpkins were used instead of turnips, as they were more readily available and easier to carve.

A forgotten history

There are, of course, many other elements to Halloween and these are just a few that make this an event that we know and love. While the medieval customs behind Halloween may have been lost or remain unknown by many, it’s important to remember that without them this could be a very different celebration. And, as the hype and popularity continues to rise it’ll certainly be interested to see how Halloween continues to evolve and what it looks like in years to come.