Whether you’re young or old, Halloween is a holiday that can be fun for all ages. When it comes to dressing up and trick or treating for bags full of candy for the kids and throwing super fun halloween parties for the adults, everyone just can’t wait for the big day to commence! And to start off the season... why not learn a little back story on one of the most celebrated holidays around the world. I mean we celebrate this awesome holiday but where did Halloween and it’s traditions come from?
Whether you’ve always had a curiosity about the origin of Halloween or you're just a major history buff looking to study something seasonal, at some point many of us ask ourselves that very question.
So to kick off the season and to gather some inspiration for your costume or upcoming party, let’s dive into the history of this fun filled holiday and how it became popular around the world!
So, what is the meaning of Halloween? The meaning of Halloween came from the popular, original term, “All Hallows Eve.” But where did that come from? To answer that question we have to go back to the very first celebration.
Halloween was first celebrated back in the early eighth century as the night before All Saints Day. To break it down, the word Hallows means Saints, hence the All Hallows Eve or as it used to be called All Hallows Even.
The name literally means the night before All Saints Day. In later years the term was shortened from All Hallows Even to Hallowe’en, then as we all know it today, Halloween.
Why is Halloween celebrated on October 31st?
Well back in the eighth century, Pope Gregory IV created a holiday on November 1st called “All Saints Day” to celebrate the new year and, well, the saints! Back then they believed October 31st marked the beginning of the cold winter and the end of the harvest season, making November 1st the beginning of their new year.
They also believed that the day before their new year was the day the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred, which they believed made it easier for the spirits to return. Another belief was that on this day the priests were able to predict the future by speaking to the spirits.
This is where the tradition for fortune telling on Halloween came from. So every year on October 31st they would dress up in costumes and light bonfires at the Celtic Samhain festival to ward off ghosts, tell fortunes of the upcoming winter and to mark the end of the year. Making October 31st the day we celebrate Halloween.
Why do we carve pumpkins?
During these Samhain festivals, not only would they dress up and dance around the bonfire to ward off ghosts, but they would also hollow out gourds, turnips and even potatoes! They would carve spooky faces into them and light a candle inside. Which in turn became Jack-O’-Lanterns.
Jack-O’-Lanterns were invented by the Irish and were so named after an old Irish folk tale called Stingy Jack. A folk tale about a very mischievous guy who was up to no good and played one too many tricks. Until one day it landed him inside of a gourd, which deemed him his name "Jack of the Lantern." Or otherwise known as, Jack-O’-Lantern.
Carving pumpkins came to be a tradition when the Irish brought the tradition of carving gourds and potatoes to America. The home of the pumpkin! After a while, they discovered that pumpkins made really great Jack-O’-Lanterns and from then on carving pumpkins has become a Halloween tradition that we just couldn’t live without!
Where did trick or treating come from?
The tradition of trick or treating began in the ninth century on November 2nd, which was called All Souls Day, a day for honoring the dead.
On this day children would go door to door in “disguises” asking for Soul Cakes, a type of pastry, in exchange for a prayer for the homeowners’ dead relatives.
However in later years (the early 1930’s to be exact) it is said that before and during this time, Halloween became dangerous as children would vandalize people’s homes and pull pranks on them as well.
So, as a way to hopefully stop the little pranksters from vandalizing their property, homeowners would bribe them with treats and gifts as an ultimatum. Basically, “I’ll give you a treat if you leave my house alone.”
This eventually took and quickly became known as Trick-or-Treat!
Costumes Throughout History
Costumes have been around since the beginning of the holiday. It started with the Samhain festival when people would dress up and dance around the bonfire. As Halloween became a bigger tradition, so did the costumes!
Starting from the 1800’s people would wear homemade witch and ghost costumes. Fast forward a hundred years and paper masks were being mass produced for children to wear on the holiday.
The paper mask costumes were such a big hit that in the 1930s and 40s companies started to make box costumes that went over the body and came with a plastic mask. These costumes are some of the first recorded costumes to have been created off of popular characters from TV shows, radio shows and books.
In the 1950s, much like we know it today, the costumes made were primarily created to match the most popular TV and movie characters of the year. From then on, movies, TV and media paved the way for the costumes that are created today.
And not to mention that the 1978 horror film "Halloween" was the start to the creation of the scary gory costumes we see today!
The way we celebrate Halloween today
Halloween may have started out as a serious holiday to ward off ghosts and commemorate the end of the harvest season, but now Halloween has become a fun filled holiday we all love!
Our transformation into building traditions, dressing up as our favorite characters, planning epic parties, making delicious treats, trick or treating and snuggling up to our favorite Halloween movies is truly a great way to celebrate this special Holiday.
Going through the history of Halloween really shows that most of the traditions we’ve built are pretty much the same as our ancestors but modernized and turned into fun!
As you see, most of the things we have come to know and love about Halloween, such as the dressing up, trick or treating, carving pumpkins and telling scary stories have all come from the original "All Hallows Eve" Samhain festival from way back in the eighth century.
Even looking through the history of costumes and trick or treating, we see that Halloween has just in the past 80 years evolved. I mean some of our ancestors are still alive from that time!
And now that we have shed some light on the history of Halloween, it’s time to take that knowledge and turn it into inspiration for your Halloween crafts and treats!