Where did Halloween come from? The meaning and history behind All Hallows’ Eve

Where did Halloween come from? The meaning and history behind All Hallows’ Eve

Where did Halloween come from? The meaning and history behind All Hallows’ Eve

Carved pumpkins lining a path up to a door of a house on halloween. The pumpkins have been carved and are lit.

(Picture: Getty Images/Digital Vision/Jamie Garbutt)

In the words of Danny Elfman’s song from the seminal seasonal classic The Nightmare Before Christmas, this is Halloween.

Halloween, aka All Hallows’ Evening, Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Eve or One Of The Most Important Holidays In The Calendar Year, is finally here.

Every year on and around October 31, people all over the world don costumes, watch scary movies, carve pumpkins, eat unhealthy amounts of sweets and/or party long into the night.

While these and other modern Halloween traditions are great fun, in honour of the holiday, here’s a look at where it all began…

Where did Halloween come from?

Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, which means ‘summer’s end’ and is pronounced ‘sow-in’.

The Celts believed that, on the night of Samhain, the door between this world and the next was open and spirits could cross over as the line between the living and the dead became a thin one.

To mark Samhain, the Celts would burn crops or animals in a bonfire as a sacrifice to their deities and would wear animal heads and skins as costumes.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, Samhain ended up being combined with the Roman festival Feralia, which was an October day on which the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead.

trick or treating children

Trick-or-treating started in Ireland, Scotland and Wales (Picture: Getty)

October 31 is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day originated in the eighth century when Pope Gregory III said 1 November would be dedicated to honouring all saints and martyrs.

This is why October 31 became known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.

Trick or Treating began in Ireland, Scotland and Wales when people started dressing up and going door to door to ask for food.

Poems would be recited or songs would be sung in exchange for the sustenance, by 11th century, the tradition evolved into children saying prayers in return for ‘soul cakes’ – which were similar to hot cross buns and intended to represent a soul being freed from purgatory when eaten.

This evolved again by the 19th century into a tradition where children would tell jokes, sing songs, and read poems instead of reciting prayers for pieces of fruit and money.

Later still, children started playing tricks on people to get them to hand over confectionery, and when immigrants travelled from the UK to America, they brought this tradition with them.

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