The History of Halloween

By Hannah Veazey | Contributor

Two thousand years ago, in what is now modern day Ireland, the Celtics believed that ghosts could enter their world from the spirit realm on the day of their New Year celebration, Nov. 1.  

It was Celtic belief on this night lines blurred between the worlds of life and death. The dearly departed that reentered the physical world weren’t your typical friendly ghosts a la Casper. These were spooks with intentions to cause destruction to crops.

In order to prepare for their dark, cold, harsh winters the Celtics hosted a festival called Samhain. Peoplewould dress up as ghosts in order to confuse the spirits caught between worlds. 

They lit massive bonfires where they offered up animal sacrifices to the Celtic deities as a way to negotiate for a bearable winter, which was typically associated with human death in that day and age. 

In the 18th century Christians turned ‘Samhain’ into ‘All Saints Day’ or ‘All Hallows Eve,’ serving as a springboard for what we know today as Halloween. In the 18th century, ‘souling’ and ‘guising’ were the two most common events that took place during Samhain. 

During souling, the needy families of the community would go begging for food. Soul cakes were given out to these families. In return, the families offered prayers for the dead family members of the people who gave them food. 

During guising, people dressed up and went door to door to ask for food, candy, wine and money in exchange for a performance including songs, stories and comical tales. 

Nineteenth century U.S. witnessed an influx of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland. They brought along their Halloween traditions. 

However, trick-or-treating was not the child-friendly experience we now celebrate. Initially, it began as a holiday for pranksters who would galavant the streets, festooning their neighbors yards with toilet paper, tip over outhouses, knocking off mailboxes and egging unsuspecting kids (if one could afford such luxuries).

 It was not until the 1950s that Halloween became child-friendly, where young ones began dressing up in whatever costume was created with household items. 

It is a novel idea to think that we have evolved from sacrificing goats at the altar of Samhain to knocking door-to-door dressed as Scooby-Doo in hopes of attaining the mythical king-sized Butterfinger.  

Halloween is second only to Christmas in holiday spending: $2.5 billion is spent annually on costumes alone. Factor in candy and the average spending skyrockets to $6 billion. 

The holiday of Halloween is kind of like the game telephone; a belief was presented, and from generation to generation evolved into what we have today.