How Halloween Began


Photo credits to Isabel Cushman

Written by Sofia Chang

Americans spend over 6 billion dollars on Halloween every year, but only few know how this holiday emerged. Halloween originated from the ancient festival Samhain, which celebrated the end of the Celtic year. Samhain celebrations took place on the night of October 31, which marked the end of the summer and the start of a miserable winter. The winter was associated with death, and on this night, the boundary between the living and the dead blurred and ghosts came in contact with the human world. By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered much of Europe, including Celtic lands. Roman and Celtic traditions combined to create a modified Samhain. Later, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as All Saints’ Day, also called All-hallows, in order to honor all of the saints. The night before All Saints’ Day became known as All-hallows Eve, which evolved over time through speech into Halloween.
Irish and European immigrants brought Halloween to America. Americans enjoyed Halloween and later molded it into a family-friendly holiday. Trick-or-treating became a common practice in America, taken from the English. Long ago in England, during the All Saints’ Day festivities, poor children went door to door and received food in exchange for prayers to the family’s dead relatives. Dressing up in costume also became a common practice, derived from Samhain and the Celts. On Samhain, people believed that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To prevent this, people wore masks and costumes so that they would be mistaken as ghosts and left alone. These traditions have morphed and taken place in today’s family-friendly Halloween, very different from the Celtic festival Samhain long ago.