Tracing the origins of Halloween: where does this spooky celebration come from?

Shyanne Cooper, Staff Writer

As we all look back on another successful Halloween, we start to wonder where this holiday even came from: what spurred an annual celebration of pumpkins, costumes and trick-or-treating?  It’s not as if the entire world simultaneously decided to create this creepy day of the dead.

According to a recent Halloween article from the History Channel, this beloved holiday comes from European and Irish backgrounds.  These countries celebrated the start of the new year on November 1, right on the border between fall and winter, and believed that the boundaries between the living and the dead were at their weakest during the last night of each year.

America’s adoption of Halloween is mostly thanks to the Irish potato famine of 1846, as Irish families came to the US to survive and brought their traditions with them.  In Ireland, on the night of Samhain (later known as Hallow’s Eve and eventually transformed to Halloween), people would light massive bonfires and dance all night wearing animal costumes.  

The spooky image of Casper and friends flying around the earth came from the Celtics, who fully believed the souls of their loved ones were roaming the living world on this night.  They would put out bowls of food as peace offerings, hoping no ghosts decided to come into their houses.  This as well as the All Soul’s Day parade in England in which poor people would beg families for money helped grow the concept of trick-or-treating.

Through the baby boom, trick-or-treating began to taper off and appeal specifically to younger children.  It was always a way of uniting the community, and as the years wore on it morphed into more of a party holiday and less of a community celebration.

Costumes actually originated from both England and Ireland.  People back then were terrified of the dark, and were convinced that they would see ghouls if they didn’t dress in masks to blend in with them.  This fear may be why Halloween is so wrapped up with eerie superstitions, such as black cats and walking underneath ladders.

The other big superstitious aspect of traditional Halloween was women using magic and fortune-telling.  These so-called ‘witches’ came up with endless strange rituals to see their future husbands  and became a widespread icon of Halloween, which is why every other costume and decoration has a witch on it!

Sometimes it is intriguing to take a step back and think about our origins.  Some of the most interesting things in the world are not created all at once, but slowly through a compilation of timeless traditions.  Peeking at Halloween’s origins show us how even the biggest things in our lives can be largely affected by centuries-old customs.  The thought can really give you goosebumps!