Origins of the Holiday and its Traditions
The origins of Halloween go back to pre-Christian times to Celtic groups in areas now known as Ireland, Scotland and Wales. According to most scholars, a great fire festival called Samhein signaled the close of the harvest and the initiation of the cold and dark season of winter. A variety of folklore and customs became associated with the celebration.
Folk custom claimed that on this night the doors between the world of the dead and the world of the living opened. All the spirits of the people who died during the previous year were thought to be traveling from their resting place on earth to their final resting place in the next world. The Celts placed food and drink out to sustain the spirits, and people concealed their identity with disguises to escape harm while they walked from house to house to enjoy food and drink (much like trick-or-treating today). Many people also carved turnips to represent faces, marking the origination of today's jack-o-lanterns.
When Christianity took root in northern Europe, these folk customs were incorporated into a Christian framework. The celebrations in Ireland, Scotland and Wales eventually became All Saints' Day, a day to commemorate all dead saints and martyrs. All Saints' Day was sometimes known as All Hallows' Day, and the night before, All Hallows' Eve, or Hallowe'en, which we today call Halloween. Although the celebrations did aquire a distrinctly religious tone, many folk customs were still observed.
Settlers and immigrants from these regions brought their folk customs to America with them, where they took root and evolved over the years. Halloween was originally celebrated in America as a harvest festival. Carved turnips became carved pumpkins, which grew in abundance in America. Colorful costumes replaced disguises, and trick-or-treat evolved from presenting food and drink to the wandering spirits.
More Fun Facts about the Origins and Evolution of Halloween
Halloween in America