Halloween is getting closer each day with Halloween merchandise popping up in stores and decorations going up, but how did the holiday start?  When did we start wearing costumes and going door to door for miniature sized pieces of our favorite candies?  Why do we carve pumpkins?  These are the real questions that we need to have answered going into this Halloween season.

Celtic Festival of Samhain

Over 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the UK, and France.  The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st.  On the night before their new year, they celebrated Samhain.  The celebration was held to give sacrifices to the dead, in hopes that they would receive protection from the coming winter.  They would light sacred bonfires, give animals and crops as sacrifices, wear costumes, and tell each other’s fortunes.

All Saints Day

In 609 A.D., and possibly in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival, Pope Boniface IV dedicated to Pantheon in honor of Christian martyrs.  The festival that accompanied this, All Martyrs Day, was moved from May 13th to November 1st by Pope Gregory III.  The night before it began to be called All-Hallows Eve and this is where Halloween came from.  All Saints Day was celebrated with bonfires, parades, and dressing up as saints, angels, and devils.

Halloween in America

America’s Halloween came about as different ethnic groups came together.  The first Halloween celebrations were public events.  To celebrate the harvest, people would share stories of the dead, tell fortunes, sing, and dance.  These celebrations were similar to those of the Celtic Festival of Samhain.  By the middle of the nineteenth-century autumn festivals were common and by the end of the nineteenth-century Halloween was a national celebration.


We already found out where the costumes came from, but what about going door to door to get a bag or bucket full of your favorite sweet treats? Going back to All Soul’s Day, children used to dress up and go door to door singing songs on behalf of the dead.  After the children sang, the residents would hand out soul cakes.  The soul cakes were round baked goods that were adorned with a cross on the top.  Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from purgatory.  Trick-or-treating came to a halt during the Great Depression and World War II due to the rations.  By the time it came back, candy was more popular than the traditional soul cakes, so people started handing out candy.

Bobbing for Apples

Halloween used to be a very popular time for singles, too.  Many of the fortune games that were played as far back as the Celts were to predict a woman’s future spouse.  Bobbing for apples also matched single ladies to their destined partners.  The method was simple.  Ladies would mark apples and toss them into a tub for the men.  The man the bobbed the apple with her mark would be her destined mate.

Jack O’ Lanterns

Based on the Irish myth of “Stingy Jack”, Jack O’ Lanterns are nothing new.  According to the story, Jack invited the Devil to have a drink.  After their drinks, Jack convinced the devil into turning into a coin to pay for their drinks.  Once the Devil turned himself into the coin, Jack kept it in his pocket next to a cross.  This prevented him from changing back.  Later, he made a deal with the Devil that he would set him free in return for not taking his soul when he died.

Jack again tricked the Devil by having him climb up a tree to pick some fruit.  Once the Devil was in the tree, Jack drew a cross in the back, trapping him in the tree.  The Devil was set free after making another deal with Jack.  After Jack died, he was not accepted into Heaven or Hell and was left to wander the Earth with only a lump of coal to light his way.  He carved a turnip and used it as a lantern as he wandered around.

In Ireland and Scotland, people started to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns with turnips and potatoes.  Immigrants that came to America brought the tradition with them and found that pumpkins were best to use.

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