Halloween itself has existed for as long as anyone can remember, and we don’t really question the spooky holiday or why we sport silly and scary costumes on that day. While this tradition of dressing as your favorite movie character or scary monster is fun, for those of all ages, but what started this lasting tradition?
Originally known as “All Hallows Eve” in the eighth century, Halloween originated from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival. Celts celebrated this festival in recognition of their new year the following day, Nov. 1. Samhain occurred Oct. 31, the day before the new year, which marked the end of summer’s harvest and the beginning of winter’s chill. The Celts associated winter with death, oftentimes, so at Samhain celebration they also believed the “boundary” between the living and dead worlds was distorted, allowing the dead to return to Earth.
Because of this otherworldly belief, the Celts then would create large, burning bonfires to use for animal sacrifices and crop burning. While partaking in this celebratory act, they also sported costumes made specifically of animal skins and heads even. During this celebration, Celts used it as an opportunity to predict each other’s fortunes.
Later, after a Roman conquer, Romans ruled the Celtic land for 400 years, creating two additional festivals to Samhain. The first was Feralia, a commemoration of the dead. The second was in honor of the Greek goddess of fruit and trees Pomona. Pomona’s symbol is the apple, which is likely to have led to the present tradition of bobbing for apples.
In the ninth century, Christianity overtook the Celtic lands and created All Souls Day, celebrated Nov. 2, essentially replacing Samhain. All Saints Day, another celebration similar to All Souls Day, though held Nov. 1, was celebrated extremely similar to Samhain. This celebration featured parades and bonfires, as well as with costumes, though the costumes were very church related—angels and devils, as well as saints. Another name for All Souls Day was All-Hallows, therefore the night before become All-Hallows Eve (the night of Samhain).
Meanwhile, America did not have a “Halloween” celebration at this time, until Irish immigrants traveled to America in the late nineteenth century. These immigrants then proceeded to share their Halloween-related traditions with the American country. From these traveler’s histories, they greatly influenced what later became Halloween in America.
In the 1800s, Americans made a change to celebrate Halloween with more of a community center, still sporting festive and spooky costumes. By the turn of the twentieth century, the country encouraged its inhabitants to mold Halloween into more of a secular holiday, falling away from its religious and superstitious backgrounds.
From this, over the centuries, Halloween began as a religious standpoint and moved to a more fun and silly holiday shared and enjoyed by families and friends all over the country. Many still celebrate the religious aspects of Halloween, though for the most part the holiday stands secular. Today, though, one of the first things people tend to associate with Halloween is dressing up in a costume—getting to be someone or something other than you for a day. Children often dress after their favorite TV or movie character, adults use this as an opportunity for risqué dress or to commemorate past interests or idols. Nowadays, children and adults alike use the holiday to free their imagination, let loose, get a little (or a lot) scary, and have fun.
Families, cultures, and communities have developed their own traditions surrounding Halloween, continuing their spooky activities and fun each returning year. Whether that’s through group or couple costumes, pumpkin carving, decorating, or simply enjoying the Halloween atmosphere, the holiday’s history still rings through year after year.