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What is Halloween Really?

Updated on July 10, 2016

There are so many 'versions' of Halloween that it's hard to figure out exactly what the holiday is. Is it the celebration of the devil, or death? Is it just a silly little excuse to give candy to kids? Is it a big dress up party? Perhaps Halloween is all those things. Hopefully by the end of this Hub you will know exactly what Halloween is.

Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image

The Celts and Hallowe'en - The Origin

Lets start by defining the word 'Halloween.' Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve, the day before All Hallows Day/All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1. All Hallows Day or All Saints day is a day in which members of the Catholic faith honour the saints. In Ireland, summer officially ended on the 31st of October and their holiday was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which is the Celtic New Year.

On the night of October 31st, the Celts believed that the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred and that ghosts returned to earth. They believed that the spirits caused mischief but also enabled Celtic priests called Druids to make futuristic predictions and prophecies. To commemorate the event, people gathered around large bonfires built by Druids, to burn crops and sacrifice animals. During this event, the Celts wore costumes - usually animal heads and skins.

When the Celts returns home, the extinguished their hearths to make their homes cold and undesirable, to ward off spirits and prevent possession. The reason why the wore ghoulish costumes was also for the purpose of keeping ghosts away from their bodies.

Books Related to Feralia and Pomona

The Romans' Hallow Adaption

In 43 A.D, the roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were adapted from the traditional Samhain celebration. Feralia was held in late October when Romans observed their deceased loved ones. During Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees was honoured - which may explain the modern-day 'bobbing for apples' on Halloween.

The belief in spirit possession faded away and dressing up ghoulishly became more ritualized and ceremonial.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.

Christianity and Alholowmesse

In the 800s, Christianity had spread throughout the Celtic lands and in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st as All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (Alholowmesse - meaning All Saints' Day). The name Samhain was replaced with All-hallows Eve and then Halloween.

In 1000 A.D., November 2nd became 'All Souls' Day' - a day of honouring the dead, similar to Samhain with bonfires and the like. People dressed as demons, angels and saints, keeping the costume tradition alive.

All Saints' Day (Public Domain Image)
All Saints' Day (Public Domain Image)
Pumpkin Soul cakes courtesy of
Pumpkin Soul cakes courtesy of

Trick or Soul Cake!

Trick-or-treating is said to have possibly originated with European 'souling' in the 9th century. On All Souls' Day (Nov. 2) Christians used to walk from village to village, asking for soul cakes - square pieces of bread with currants - and the more they received, the more prays promised for dead relatives of the soul cake givers.

Christians believed that deceased ones remained 'in limbo' for some time after death. Prayer was said to free the loved one's soul and give them passage to heaven.

During All Souls' Day parades in England, the poor used to bed for food and families would give them soul cakes in exchange for prayers for their deceased loved ones. Giving out soul cakes was supposed to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for spirits that roamed the earthly realm. Even children would walk around the village and ask for soul cakes.

More Hallow Adaptations

Just as in Celtic Ireland, dressing up for Halloween in Europe was to prevent spirit encounters and possession. Europeans believed that if they left their homes and were recognised by ghosts that the spirits will occupy their bodies. As a result, people wore masks when leaving the house.

Different European customs and Native American customs were mashed together to form the American version of Halloween. 'Play parties' - public events to celebrate the harvest - was the first celebration of Halloween in American. Neighbours shared stories about the dead, sang, dance and told each other's fortunes. Ghost stories and making mischief during the night became common but by the middle of the 19th century, the modern-day Halloween still wasn't celebrated throughout the country.

During the second half of the 19th century, there was a huge increase of immigration to the US. Many of the immigrants were from Ireland - fleeing the 1846 potato famine. Under the Irish influence, Americans began wearing costumes for Halloween and walking around the neighbourhood seeking food or money - the beginnings of the trick-or-treat tradition.

Who's Jack O'Lantern?

There is an Irish folklore that tells of a notorious drunkard and trickster named Jack. Jack even managed to trick Satan into climbing a tree and then he carved an image of a cross on the trunk of the tree, therefore trapping the devil there. Jack's deal with the devil was that he could never tempt him again then he'd let him down from the tree.

When Jack died, he wasn't allowed into Heaven because of his evil ways but he wasn't allowed into hell because the devil was cross with him. Instead of letting Jack into hell, the devil gave him an ember to light his way through the cold and the dark. The ember was put int a hallowed-out turnip so that it would glow longer.

Originally, Jack's lanterns were made out of turnips by the Irish but after the Irish immigrated to America, they began using pumpkins - which were more abundant in America.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of
Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Modern-day American Halloween

In the late 1800s, Halloween became a holiday about community and get-togethers in America. Halloween parties became the most common form of celebration and parents were encouraged to take the ghoulish aspect out of Halloween. Most of the superstitious and religious aspects were gone by the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1920s and 30s, Halloween was completely centered around the community.

Vandalism became a serious issue around Halloween time and by the 50s, parties moved into the classrooms and homes to prevent town-wide chaos that will facilitate vandalism. Trick-or-treating came back and helped aid in vandalism - a negation to either supply a treat or be vandalized.

Halloween and the Occult

Halloween has become a secular celebration, therefore not acceptable to Christianity. In the view of many Christians, Halloween is still associated with evil and with the supernatural. Some Christians believe the the holiday is Satanic and should be avoided at all costs.

Other Christians still associate the holiday with All Saints Day and ignore other secular customs.

Many occult groups including Wickens and Satan worshipers see Halloween as the most important day of the year to carry on their occult deeds. Therefore, there is still a terribly dark aspect of Halloween - which continues to discourage Christians about celebrating Halloween.

So Is Halloween Evil?

Despite the light-hearted celebration Halloween has became in Western civilization, because of the many ties to the dead and to the occult, Halloween is still seen as evil. To many, Halloween is just a fun little day for the kids but for most serious Christians, Halloween is potentially dangerous because it gives greater access for evil spirits to influence children by seeming 'harmless.'

Personally, I do not celebrate Halloween nor do I care to. I've never done the whole trick-or-treating thing but I always manage to get a bag of candy from a family friend. So... that's just me. It's up to you to decided whether or not you want to celebrate Halloween.

Thanks for reading!

Halloween Movies


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    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      And thank you for commenting, ScottS.

      -K. Alto

    • ScottS profile image


      6 years ago from Windermere, BC

      Thanks for the great halloween info. Great hub.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Kids do love halloween. Other kids take it as a chance to do mischief... especially in my town. A few years ago, a que of cars parked on the street had all the windows shattered. It was so sad.

      I'm glad you liked my explanations. Thanks!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      7 years ago from US

      Personally I don't think that Halloween is evil, if the children are happy, why not, isn't it? I love treat, candies, hehe

      I am appreciating what you explained here in this hub, I learned a lot kaltopsyd, Nice, Maita

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      I don't celebrate Halloween because I chose not to (because I don't like it either). But I agree with you. It's fun to read about the history. I found it very interesting so I wanted to share!

    • LizzyBoo profile image


      7 years ago from Czech Republic

      I do not like Halloween. Dunno why but probably coz it is not common in my country. :-) but it was fun to read about the history.

      Thank you very much. Lizzy

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hello humagaia,

      Really? That's quite interesting. I did not know that. Thank you for teaching me something new.

    • humagaia profile image

      Charles Fox 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Halloween is not so well favoured in the Uk as we have banished the Catholics in the past. And we have a celebration 5 days later that involves fireworks and bonfires that celebrates burning a catholic for treason.

      It is taking off a little on the back of copying the US in everything it does, but not to the extent that it would ever be a substitute for Guy Farlkes night!

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      The discussion within the church is so confusing at times. I've chosen just not to celebrate - with the whole costume thing. Candy is harmless so... Thanks for your comment, Joe.

    • Dobson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      There is such a discussion espeically within the church about the good and bad of halloween. I do not know many folks who take it beyond the candy to kids level, so it seems harmless to me. You give a lot of inmformation to make us take a differrent view however. Nice contribution Kim.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hello Money Glitch. You're so right. Halloween is kind of dangerous these days. People go way overboard during Halloween. Thanks for commenting!

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Nice hub, I liked Halloween as a child for the sweets and treats, but back then it was a lot safer than it is now a days. Great hub showing the times lines and the differences in opinions about this holiday.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Wow, I feel good for teaching you all something new. I love sharing the little things I find interesting. I'm glad you found it interesting too, K9. Thanks!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      Those celts sure know how to arrange a holiday! What an interesting trip through time and discovery about What Halloween Really is. I learned so much reading this. Thank you for a captivating history lesson.


    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hi Christoph! You're too funny. I'm glad you could learn something about my Hub. So now you know it's not just so you can have candy! :-)

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      7 years ago from St. Louis

      Be gosh and be gorrah, leave it to the Irish. What a well researched hub, K. There's a lot of history and legend in Halloween and it seems you covered it all. And here I thought that Halloween was just so I could have candy!

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Wow, thanks Mother's Child. I feel good to have taught you something new. I didn't know about the turnips either and I found that really interesting. Thank you for reading and for commenting.

    • My Mother's Child profile image

      My Mother's Child 

      7 years ago from Southern United States of America

      You really packed a ton of information in one hub, quite successfully I might add. I actually learned a few things along my reading journey - pumpkins vs. turnips for instance. I'm happy with the turnips. Thanks for sharing this research piece with me. I look forward to reading many more of your entries.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thank you very much, Mentalist!

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      A complete and interestingly detailed hub,Kaltopsyd!;)

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thanks, Shil. I found it interesting too. :-)

    • Shil1978 profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice hub Kim - good job with the research. Interesting read!!

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thanks Billy. It was fun researching to write this Hub.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub with the evolution of what we know as Halloween today.


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