Halloween: Past Reflections

By Kelly McCool, Trending Writer

Halloween originated from the Celtic festival, Samhain, about two thousand years ago.  It was said that October 31st was the day that the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped. The people, living in that time period, believed that the ghosts of dead people would return to the earth for that night and cause horrible things to happen, such as destroy the crops and bring illnesses. In order to stop this, the people would dress up in a variety of costumes—usually made of animal hides—and mimic the spirits so that they would mistake the Celtics for other ghosts.

In 43 AD the Roman armies came and conquered Celtic territory.  Two Roman festivals, Feralia and Pamona, were then combined with Samhain so that there was also some Roman tradition.  Feralia was created for the Romans to honor their dead ancestors.  The Romans would leave offerings for the ancestors at their tombstones. Pamona was a festival for the goddess of fruit and trees; the symbol of Pamona is an apple, so the activity “bobbing for apples” came from this festival.

In the eighth century, the Catholic Church changed Samhain into “All Hallows’ Eve”, “All Souls’ Day”, and “All Saints’ Day” and in the eleventh century, Catholics began to dress up as saints, angels, or demons. Guising, after “disguising”, became a popular event in the Middle Ages when families would dress in costume and go door-to-door asking for money and food in exchange for prayers, songs, or poems.

When Halloween was first celebrated in America, the events differed depending on where you resided in the country.  For instance, if one lived in Colonial New England, strict Protestants made it nearly impossible to have festivities on Halloween, but southern colonies had many celebrations. These activities differed depending on what country the individuals originally came from. A lot of the festivities included singing and dancing. Guising came to American culture in the year 1911, deriving from the Scottish and Irish tradition. In the 1920s, guising became trick-or-treating because families switched from politely exchanging food and money to children vandalizing property and expecting candy from others. By the 1940s, the vandalism was under control. When the baby boom occurred in the 50s, Halloween became a popular annual event that was centered on children. Families and schools would have parties celebrating the holiday and go trick-or-treating, resulting in what Halloween festivities are like today in America.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 20th print edition.

Contact Kelly at


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