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The History of Halloween

Updated on October 15, 2014

A time of magic, supersition and fantasy

Halloween is the second most popular holiday in North America behind Christmas. It's a time where children (and adults!) dress up in costumes, have parties, carve Jack-O-Lanterns, and go Trick-or-treating door to door. While some traditions are solely from modern times, the origins go deeper back to the Middle Ages. Read on for more on the History of Halloween.


The Early Origins of Halloween

Celebrated on October 31st, Halloween has its origins in an Ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. In the Gaelic culture, Halloween celebrates the end of harvest when pagans took stock of supplies and prepared for the upcoming winter. October 31st is a special day in which the boundary between the living and dead overlap and the dead could come back to life and cause chaos. Mask and costumes are worn in an attempt to mimic, or appease the evil spirits.

Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.


The History of Halloween Costumes and Trick or Treating

Dressing up in costumes and going from door to door to ask for treats dates back to the Middle Ages and resembles the Medieval practice of "Souling" where poor people would go door to doon on November 1st and get food in return for prayers for the dead on Nov. 2nd (All Souls Day). This practice was most common in Ireland and Britain but also to some extent in Italy.

However, the earliest known reference to today's Trick or Treating appears in print in 1911 in a paper in Kingston, Ontario. References appear sporadically around North America during the 1920's and it seems that the practice is widespread in the 1930's.

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night


The Christian Side of Halloween

By around 800 AD, Christianity spread into Celtic lands and influenced traditional Pagan and Celtic Festivals. In the 7th C, Pope Boniface designated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day to honor martyrs and Saints. It's thought that he was attempting to replace Samhain and All-hallows with a Christian Festival. Later in 1000 AD, Nov. 2 would become All Souls' Day to honor the dead with bonfires, parades and dressing up as saints, devils or angels.


The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

There are a couple different versions of the myth of the Jack-O-Lantern.

There is an Irish Folk Tale that features Jack, a farmer who traps the devil. He tricks the devil into climbing up an apple tree and then puts crosses all around the trunk so he couldn't get down.

In the other myth, Jack was being chased by some villages when he met the devil, who claimed he was about to die. Jack bargains with the devil, offering to turn over the Church-going villages who were chasing him. Jack tricks the devil and strips him of his powers, and in the end lets him go only after the devil agrees never to take his soul. When Jack died, he was too sinful to go to Heaven but unable to go to Hell so he had nowhere to go and no light either. So Jack carved a lantern out of a turnip and put an ember inside it and then began wandering the Earth looking for a home.

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    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I've always thought I was from England in another life. (grin) Welcome to HubPages, and thanks for sharing your work.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

      Well as a Scot! I am proud of this tradition!