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Halloween - Where did it originate?

Updated on October 26, 2015
Traditional Irish Jack O' Lantern made from a Turnip
Traditional Irish Jack O' Lantern made from a Turnip

Oíche Shamhna in Irish

What we know today as the festival of Halloween or all hallows eve, dates back thousands of years, to when it was known as Oiche Shamhna (E-ha How-na) or Samhain (Sow-an).

These ancient Celtic Irish festivals which celebrated the end of the fertile or harvest season, and the beginning of the darkness, transformed over the years to the colorful festivals we know today. It is a night filled with wonder, magic, friendship and a feeling that no other day of the year can match.

Read on to hear about what goes on during Halloween and the origins of this spookiest night of the year.

Did you know the origin of the Name for Halloween?

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The Origins of the Name

The name was altered, in an attempt by the disgruntled Catholic church, to stamp out Paganism and the festivals which promoted it. 'All saints day' or 'Hallowmas' was established to overpower the popular pagan festival, and over the years, the name wore away. In some places the day has become completely eclipsed, such as in Britain (with the exception of Scotland) where they celebrate Guy Fawks day.

The first such case of the day being referred to as Halloween was by Scottish poet and writer John Mayne in 1780, who wrote about the greatness of this day and the Ghostly pranks that take place.

It seems that the name may have changed, but the people stuck to their culture and continued to celebrate the day with their traditional, fun filled festivities. This continued for approximately 1,500 years after the Irish conversion to Christianity and continues to this day.

The Origins of Jack O' Laterns/ Pumpkins....... or Turnips?

All over the world today, children carve pumpkins and dress up in costumes. Little do people know that many of these traditions date back to ancient Ireland and Scotland.

Oh....The ever famous Jack O' Latern, that was originally a turnip. Yes, that is indeed true. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in what we now know as the United States, Irish and Scottish, who were celebrating Halloween, would carve Turnips to host the lost souls of those held in purgatory. It wasn't until these people immigrated to the United States, that they turned to Pumpkins, due to the lack of turnips in the new world.

Did you know that Jack O' Lanterns Were Originally Turnips?

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The Origins of Trick or Treating

A later creation was that of trick or treating and wearing of costumes, which began in Scotland in the late 1800's as a fun activity for kids on Halloween. It was called 'Guising', and was later adopted by children all over the globe. In the United States this 'Guising', was renamed trick or treating, and this term soon took hold.

Did you know that Trick or Treating originated in Scotland?

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Bobbing For Apples

Bobbing for Apples: Apples are placed in a bucket, and people take turns at trying to remove the apples from the bucket with only their mouth. This brings back memori4es of the witch trials, where witches were held under the water for prolonged periods of time, until they confessed to being a witch, if they did not confess, they were eventually drowned. If they did confess, they were...... well..... they were also drowned.

Have you ever heard of Bobbing for Apples?

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Monkey Nuts/ Peanuts

In some cultures these are a must have to get you in the Halloween mood, They are handed out with the candies to the kids when they are trick or treating. Even the thoughts of this brings back memories of sifting through the monkey nuts and grapes in my trick or treat bag, to get to the candies below them.


Throwing eggs, and carrying out general mischief is part of Halloween as much as anything else. I remember making a dummy out of my stuffed animals that were stored in the attic, and putting a mask on for its head. We tied the creepy, odd shaped figure to a pole on the back roads, so that any passers by would get a fright. We also put crime scene tape along the roadside another year, to get peoples imagination going. Of course it was a slow moving road, but kids will be kids.

Bon Fires

Without a good old fashioned Bon fire, my childhood would not have been the same. Standing in the middle of a field by the huge fire, surrounded by other ghosts, witches, skeletons and whatever else, with fireworks going off in the distance. Nothing can match that childhood memory.


In some countries fireworks are used to spook up the atmosphere on Halloween. The fireworks are given names like black cats, and can be seen lighting up the night sky, for days before and after all Hallows eve.

Did you know that many countries use Fireworks on Halloween?

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International Spookfest

No matter where Halloween originated, one thing is sure. It is one of very few days where people can celebrate internationally and have fun. Its such a splendid festival with Scotlands Bonfire Toffee, the United States with their candy corn, Ireland with their BarnBrack and all the contributions and changes to the day, that so many countries have made. It is a great day to have fun, be frightened and have a laugh with your kids and friends a like.

Did you know that Halloween was such an international and ancient festival?

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    • CuAllaidh profile image

      Jeff Johnston 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Nice Halloween History article :D good job

    • cfin profile image

      cfin 5 years ago from The World we live in

      Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed it.

    • cfin profile image

      cfin 5 years ago from The World we live in

      @daisyjae, glad you enjoyed it. It's nice to know he true history, when surrounded by media driven myths :)

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 5 years ago from Canada

      There is lots i didn't know about one of my fave holidays! Thanks for sharing. Maybe we will carve turnips this year.

    • yougotme profile image

      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      Great hub! This is so informative! I didn't know all these things about Halloween. It feels great to learn something new everyday. Thanks!