A Brief History of Halloween

Halloween is an ancient festival, older than Rome and Christmas. I mean, ‘Trick or Treating’ has its roots in pagan times for hallow’s sake!

Colonial New England’s die-hard puritan community (notoriously fond of burning witches) believed Halloween to be a night when demons crept through the towns and farmhouses. They feared its power, and banned it.

You can’t blame them: Halloween has old magic in its veins! It’s the time of the year when the rainy curtain dividing the mortal world and the next become blurred like a pane of frosted glass: Aos Si (we’ll get to them) prowl the streets; ghosts and demons come knocking at your door…

So tell me: are you ready to feel haunted?

Where does Halloween come from?

Halloween has been celebrated for literally thousands of years! With its roots in pagan superstition, Halloween was traditionally celebrated in cultures all around the world, from the Celts and Romans all the way to the Aztecs!

These pagan mysteries were appropriated by the Catholic Church in around 1000 AD, and regurgitated in the form of All Saints’ Day, and later All Souls’ Day; and during the colonisation of the New World, the Day of the Dead.

What does Halloween mean?

It is derived from the Middle English word, Alholowmass, which means All Saints’ Day.

Why is Halloween celebrated?

The Celtic New Year was held on November 1st. The festival was called Samhain, a time when the barrier between the lands of the living and the dead was broken: ghosts, demons and Aos Si (evil fairies) would haunt the earth. October 31st was the night the dead returned; understandably, these people wanted to take precautions!

Why do we trick or treat?

To protect themselves from these demons, parents dressed their children in animal skins, to make them look like evil spirits. This was called ‘guising’ or ‘mumming’ in Scotland. These ghoulish children would go from door to door, asking for food. If a household refused them food, a trick would be preyed upon them.

Why are pumpkins associated with Halloween?

In truth, it started with a turnip. The inside of a turnip was scooped out, and candles would be placed in the hollow; then a scary face was carved. After dark, people would walk around holding these turnips, to ward off evil spirits.

Pumpkins were more readily available in the New World. People changed pumpkin for turnip. Poor turnips. It sucks being that unpopular.

If you’re stuck for what to do with your spooky pumpkins this year though, check out our crafty uses for pumpkin pulp blog!

Why do we dunk for apples?

A few theories remain. Apples were symbolically important to the Celts, which could explain the tradition of dunking for apples.

But it was perhaps after the Roman conquest of the Gallic nations (in the 1st century AD) that dunking for apples became associated with Halloween. The festival of Feralia – the Day of the Dead in late October – was held near the festival of Pomona, who was the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. And guess what? Her symbol was an apple.

When did Halloween become popular?

European settlers of the New World brought their traditions with them. Harvest festivals were celebrated in what were called ‘play parties’, where people would gather to share stories of the dead, dance and sing, and tell ghost stories.

Then in the 19th century, when the Irish fled Europe during the Potato Famine, they flooded North America and brought their traditions with them.

And the rest is history, as they say.