Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. But where did this celebration of all things spooky come from? Find out the fun history of Halloween, as told through festive pictures and some awesome Halloween costumes that Sara and I have donned throughout the years!
I don’t care how old I get, I love Halloween. It’s fun to go to costume parties, I like being something different each year, and it’s a good excuse to go wild with decorations.
Plus, I basically use Halloween as an excuse to wear the things that I can only daydream about. Although I wish that I were more of the creative type when it comes to costumes, I always end up just dressing up as what I think is cute and pretty.
It occurred to me this year though that I have absolutely no idea where the concept of Halloween comes from. As a history person that astounded me. I needed to find out! So I did. And here it is; the short, dirty guide to why we celebrate Halloween.
Why Do We Celebrate Halloween?
We celebrate Halloween because it was part of a pagan and Christian tradition that was brought to the United States in the 1800s – mostly from the Irish.
History of Halloween
Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain about 2,000 years ago. The Celts were spread across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. They were celebrating the day that marked the end of summer and harvest.
The spooky part stems from their belief that this was the one day of the year where the divide between the living and the dead becomes less defined. On the night of Samhain, ghosts were thought to visit the living and do reckless things, like destroy crops and generally scare the crap out of you.
To be fair, I read from other sources that the Scottish Gaels also believed that November 1st was the day when the dead could pass into the world of the living.
The Gaels would set their dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Bonfires were set to ward off the evil ones.
Later in the 8th century, Pope Gregory II established November 1st as All Saints Day, officially transitioning the practice to Christianity. It changed to become a day that celebrates the lives of saints and martyrs who have passed. All Hallow’s Eve refers to the day before All Saints Day, i.e. Halloween.
Why do people wear Halloween costumes?
According to some sources, the history of Halloween costumes came from when the Celts dressed up as the dead. Dressing in white and blackening their faces, they had hoped that this would confuse the spirits into thinking that they were one of them.
For others, instead of dressing up, they would offer sweets to the spirits to curry favor.
Catholics later adopted this tradition, except without the brownnosing to the spirits part. Their goal was instead to honor the saints and pray for the souls that are stuck in purgatory.
Why do we go Trick or Treating?
In the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the practice of trick or treating came into play. People would wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for a song or poem. They dressed as the souls of the dead, Asos Si, as a means of protecting themselves against them.
The Christians again adopted this tradition, but called it souling. Children would go to their neighbors asking for soul cakes. In return for a soul cake, the children would pray for the souls of loved ones in purgatory.
Soul cakes were a sweet dessert that had a cross marked on the top. They represented the souls of the deceased that were being freed from purgatory. Children during this timed dressed as saints, demons, or angels.
Why Do We Use Jack O’Lanterns?
Jack O’Lanterns and the whole association with pumpkins came from Ireland. The name Jack O’Lantern is based on Stingy Jack, an old Irish folklore about a drunk, miserable man who would play tricks on everyone.
At the end of the Stingy Jack story, he hollowed out a turnip, placed a candle inside, and used it as a lantern. The Irish mimicked this with turnips and potatoes. Eventually, people started carving scary faces into them as yet another way of warding off evil spirits, but also Stingy Jack.
When the Irish later immigrated to the United States in the 1800s, they took this tradition with them, but switched it to pumpkins.
So there it is – the history of Halloween! As with many tales, especially in the United States, Halloween comes from mixing an old world tradition with elements of the new.
Some of my favorite memories revolve around Halloween. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.