A History of Halloween Traditions and Roots

by Luke Tonge
Last updated: Aug 23, 2022

Halloween is a holiday that everyone looks forward to every year, celebrated on October 31 st, this year Halloween of 2022 will be taking place on Monday, October 31st . To help get you into the feel and Halloween vibe of spooks, tricks, and fun surprises, we’re taking a look at the history of Halloween, its roots, and how Halloween is celebrated in the modern age we live in!

Ancient Halloween Roots and Origins

Halloween began its origins way back in the ancient Celtic Festival of Samhain, which is pronounced ‘Sow-in’. 2000 years ago, the Celts that used to live in the area that is now known as Ireland, used to celebrate their new year on November 1 st, alongside the United Kingdom and France, as the day marked the official end of summer and its harvest, as well as announcing the beginning days of the dark, cold winter, which has always been a time associated with human death

Due to these reasons, the Celts believed that on the night before their New Year, the line between the worlds of the living and the dead cross together, and the ghosts of the dead would return to walk the Earth whilst they celebrated Samhain. The Celts believed that due to this day of intersecting worlds, the presence of spirits in our World made it easier for the Druids/Celtic Priests to make predictions about the future, and for a civilisation of people that were at the mercy of the volatile natural world, the Druids prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, and dark winters the new years would bring.

In commemoration of the event, the Celtic Druids would construct giant sacred bonfires where their people would gather to burn crops and sacrifice animals to the Celtic Deities. At these events, the Celts would wear costumes typically made from animal heads and skins, attempting to read each other’s fortunes. When the celebrations came to an end, they would re-light their heath fires which they extinguished earlier that evening from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter!

By the year 43 A.D, the Roman Empire conquered the majority of all Celtic Territory, and over the course of 400 years that they ruled over the Celtic Lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined together with the Traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. First was Feralia, a day in late October in which the Romans would traditionally commemorate the passing of the dead, and the Second was a day in honour of Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain would most certainly explain the classic tradition of bobbing for apples that is still practised today every Halloween!

History of All Saints Day

On May 13 th 609 A.D, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to honour all Christian Martyrs, and thus the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was entrenched within the Western Church. Pope Gregory III would later expand this festival to include All Saints Day too, as well as all Martyr’s day, and moved the date from May 13 th to November 1 st. Another event known as All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as the saints, angels, and devils.

The All Saints’ Day celebration was also known as All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas, which was derived from the Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day, and the Night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celt’s region began to be known Al-Hallows Eve, and eventually, known as Halloween as we know it today!

Halloween Arriving in America

America’s celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems. Instead, Halloween was a lot more common in Maryland and the Southern Colonies. As time progressed and the various beliefs and customs of different European Ethnic Groups and American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween emerged. Some of the first celebrations included “play parties”, which were public events held to celebrate the harvest, in which Neighbours would tell tales and stories of the dead, as well as tell fortunes, dance, and sing.

One of the other main festivities featured in Colonial Halloween was the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the 19 th century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was yet to be celebrated everywhere within the country. During the second half of the 19 th century, America was flooded with new immigrants, most of which were the millions that fled the Irish Potato Famine. Subsequently, this mass immigration helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally!

A History of Halloween Trick-or-Treating

Taking inspiration from European Traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and would go house to house asking for either food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. During the late 1800s, a movement commenced in America to solidify Halloween into a national holiday that targeted and was more about community and neighbourly get-togethers than being focused strictly on Ghosts, Pranks, and Witchcraft. By the next century, Halloween parties for both adults and children respectively, became the most common way to celebrate the day, involving days focusing on games, seasonal foods of the times, and festive costumes.

It was told that parents were encouraged by circulating local newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” and remove them from Halloween celebrations, and due to these efforts, have caused Halloween to lose a lot of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the 20 th century!

Halloween Parties

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a community-centred holiday that involved parades, town-wide Halloween parties and more that featured as the entertainment for the day. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague the celebrations of many communities during this time.

The age-old practice and event of Trick-or-Treating were also revived between the time periods of the 1920s and 1950s, Trick-or-Treating being a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. Families, in theory, could also prevent tricks from being played on them by providing the children who knocked on their doors with small treats like candy, bringing about the tradition that continues onwards today. Americans annually spend around $6 billion annually on Halloween, being the country’s second-largest holiday before Christmas!

Halloween Movies

In terms of commercial success, Scary Halloween movies have a long history of being box office hits, Classic Halloween movies include “Halloween”, a 1978 John Carpenter film staring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Donald Pleasance as Doctor Loomis, and Nick Castle as ‘The Shape’ or more commonly and famously known as Michael Myers, the silent killer of Halloween night.

Spawning 8 movies during its run time, 2 remakes including 2 films by Rob Zombie, and having John Carpenter hopping back to finish the series with his new “Halloween” (2018), “Halloween Kills” (2021), and finally finishing with “Halloween Ends” coming this October in 2022, the original Halloween is responsible for spawning the classic slasher films of the 1980s and 1990s, featuring other timeless classics such as “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Friday the 13th”, “Scream” and money more.

Whilst those are much tougher, adult-targeted films, there were a lot of classic family-friendly films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Beetlejuice”, and “Hocus Pocus”, Halloween is a season that truly everyone can enjoy together!

Black Cats, Ghosts, and Superstitions for the Halloween Season

Being a Holiday all about frights, mystery and magic, Halloween has naturally always been a superstitious holiday period, beginning as a Celtic end-of-summer festival too during a time when people felt especially close and connected to deceased relatives and friends. To help these friendly spirits of ones once with us, people would lay places at the dinner table, leave treats on doorsteps, and would candles alongside the road in order to help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.

Halloween Ghosts by today’s standards are often depicted as malevolent, evil, and feared spirits, resulting in our customs to superstitions growing scarier too. Avoiding crossing a path with Black Cats for fear of bad luck is a prime example. This was an idea rooted deep within the Middle Ages, as many believed that Witches would avoid being detected by turning themselves into Black Cats.

Whereas other classic superstitions such as avoiding walking under ladders originated from Ancient Egyptians, who believed Triangles were sacred, although superstitions aside, walking under Ladders is genuinely a dangerous concern for a safety hazard! Other classic superstitions people avoid are breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks on the pavement or the road, and spilling salt!

And there you have it, an insightful look into Halloween history, traditions, and roots throughout the world, hopefully, you learned something new and enjoyed reading, and we hope that you’ll continue to celebrate Halloween amongst your family and friends this year, and to check out Cazaars’ Halloween selection for you to celebrate with tradition and joy for every Halloween you celebrate!