The Origins of Halloween

The Origins of Halloween

We celebrate Halloween this year on Sunday. Some of you may be well aware of its origins, but #WWO were curious to dig a little deeper. First off, the origins of Halloween go back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Later, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as All Saints Day. As a time to honour all saints, it included some of Samhain’s tradition. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, later Halloween. Can we also please remind all you good people that some homeowners may be isolating all vulnerable. So please be understanding whould they not answer the door if you are out trick or treating.

What Was Samhain’s?

A 2,000 year old Celtic festival held halfway between autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The celts were dominant in the UK, Ireland and northern France. It was a time of harvesting. Once completed, the Celts and their Druid priests lit huge bonfires and held their religious ceremonies. 

Samhain was a time when Celts believed that ancestral spirits could cross into the living world from the spiritual. Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them.

How did Samhain Develop into the Origins of Halloween?

Traditionally ancestors referred to All Saints’ Day as All-hallowmas. It’s derived from the middle english  Alholowmesse. The Celts started to call the Samhain, (the night before All-hallowmas) All-Hallows Eve. Eventually that developed into Halloween. Over the centuries, the three holidays of All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Samhain merged into Halloween. The Catholic Church still recognizes All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day today. Some  Wiccans  and Celtic Reconstructionists commemorate Samhain. 

The Origins of Halloween Trick or Treat

Traditionally on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day In England and Ireland, the poor would call on wealthier households. They would ask for pastries called soul cakes. In return the poor would promise to pray for the souls of the wealthy dead relatives. They called it souling. Over time children took it up. They would go from door to door asking for food, money and ale. As a consequence you could say the start of trick without the treating. Also a no age limit on alcohol back then?

The US Influence on the Origins of Halloween

The Origins of Halloween

As a predominantly protestant country, early Americans did not really celebrate Halloween much. In the catholic dominated state of Maryland and the southern colonies they did. Then by the mid-19th century that new immigrants including the millions fleeing the Irish Potato popularized the celebration nationally.

They celebrated Halloween as they did back home. After in the late 1800s it also included playing tricks. Tricks included placing farmers’ wagons and livestock on barn roofs, uprooting vegetables in gardens and tipping over outdoor toilets. Progressing to the early 20th century, vandalism, physical assaults and sporadic acts of violence were quite common. 

Haunted Houses!

As early as the 1800s, London’s Marie Tussaud’s wax museum had a “Chamber of Horrors” featuring decapitated figures from the French Revolution. Fairground ride manufacturer Orton & Spooner later built the oldest haunted house. Now you can still try it in Hampshire today, complete with dim lights, shaking floors and demonic screams.

The horrendous economic conditions of the Great Depression started a similar trend in the US. It was a key cause of unprecedented violence around Halloween. To distract unruly children, parents created their own haunted trails and even haunted houses. 

The Origins of Halloween Costumes

The Origins of Halloween

From the start of Halloween and its predecessors there have been costumes. It was as late as the mid 1900s before they developed into what we are accustomed to today.  

With people organizing their own parties and even haunted houses to keep children safe dressing up was all part of the fun and atmosphere). Characters from comics and movies created inspiration for costumes. Soon cheaper manufactured costumes became popular from the 1950s in the US. Witches, Dracula, mummies, clowns and Frankenstein evolved. 

Halloween Movies Well Known and Less Known

Now you know all this, how about a few pointers to Horror Films? On Netflix;

The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix (October 2021) (

or you could have a look at Rotten Tomatos Top 200 ranked movies;

Meanwhile earlier memorable classics for the historic film buff;

The Abominable Doctor Phibes (Vincent Price)

Arthur Askeys 1914 Ghost Train

Laurel & Hardy Murder Case

More Information

Finally if you want to know a little more here are some links;

Celtic History

The origins of trick-or-treating 

The history of Halloween candy 

US Great Depression origins of Halloween haunted houses

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