The History of Halloween

How did this candy-filled, costume holiday start?
Posted on 10/27/2022
Student wearing Halloween costume



by Liliana Webb

When the leaves turn orange, the temperature drops, houses are decorated with all kinds of spooky and scary decorations for the one day you can dress as anything you want to and stuff your face with candies and treats. October 31st, every year, is Halloween. This day includes walking from door to door saying “Trick or Treat!”, adults filling up your plastic pumpkins with candies galore, or sometimes you’ll stumble upon the dentist's house who's giving out toothbrushes instead. If you’ve ever wondered how these traditions came to be, you’ve come to the right place! But this beloved holiday’s history might be darker than you think.


Let’s go back 2,000 years ago, when the festival of Samhain (a Gaelic term meaning “summer’s end) was celebrated by Celts on November 1st. This festival marked the new year because summer would be ending, and cold winters would be deadly. The Roman’s were celebrating Pomona, which honored the Roman goddess of harvest. The Roman’s believed November 21st marked the end of the harvest season and they thanked Pomona for a beautiful season. They left offerings for Pomona, usually apples, which is probably why apples are an iconic Halloween symbol.


Roman’s eventually conquered Celtic territory and these two holidays combined. All of the traditions of this national holiday come from the fear of winter, when sicknesses arose and people would die. Celtic’s and Roman’s believed that during their festivals, Samhain and Pomona, the barrier between the living and the dead, was temporarily blurred. They believed ghosts roamed the Earth on October 31st and they feared their trickery. Traditions we do today surrounding Halloween come from ways villagers protected themselves from ghosts.


We gut out pumpkins and carve faces on them, putting candles inside and lighting them, and we call these pumpkins “Jack-o’-Lanterns.” But the original Jack-o’-Lanterns were not pumpkins. As a matter of fact, villagers often used turnips, potatoes, and beets. They hallowed out these vegetables like we do with pumpkins, and put candles inside, but they believed that carving creepy faces onto these vegetables warded off evil spirits. Most people carve pumpkins for fun nowadays, but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s when people started using pumpkins to carve – for it was much easier to carve – and pumpkins grew in larger numbers during the harvest season.


As far as dressing up in costumes for this spooky holiday goes, the villagers believed that dressing up as the monsters they feared would protect them as well. They believed that people with “supernatural powers,” such as fortune tellers and mediums, were at their most powerful during Halloween, and they feared witchcraft. Children took this holiday as an opportunity to be mischievous and pull pranks, because they knew adults would believe it was the spirits doing them. After this, many would offer treats to children to preoccupy them from pulling tricks and distract them from causing trouble on Halloween night. Sound familiar? This is where the term “Trick or Treat” comes from!


Fear surrounded this holiday many, many years ago, for Halloween was a time where many would prepare for death of the harsh, cold winters their bodies could not handle. They feared spirits and witches that they believed were most powerful on Halloween night. Now, Halloween is a holiday that everyone can enjoy! We’ve developed a sense of fun in scaring each other with ghosts and ghouls, witches and monsters, whether you believe in the supernatural or not. We look forward to carving pumpkins, just for the fun of it. We get excited to be scared, so much so that we go to haunted houses and watch horror movies for the adrenaline rush of being frightened. We think of Halloween night as a night to be harmlessly spooked, but that wasn’t the case for the Roman’s and Celtics that created these traditions many years ago.


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