The Origin of Halloween

By Celeste Fendt
The Halloween celebration we know today can be traced back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain.

Photo by Celeste Fendt

The Halloween celebration we know today can be traced back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. Although our modern holiday and Samhain both took place on the last day of October, the festivities involved in these celebrations differ greatly. In this festival the Celtic people paid tribute to the dead by gathering together for ceremonial bonfires and banquets. They oftentimes dressed in disguises in an effort to scare away unwanted spirits from their celebrations.

Christianity spread to the Celtic lands of what are now Ireland, the United Kingdom and France at the beginning of the ninth century. Shortly after, the Church declared November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a similar celebration to the Celtic Halloween because of its dedication to honoring the dead.

In addition to the ritualistic bonfires and masquerades, this Christian holiday included a practice called “souling.” Souling was a time for poor people to knock on the doors of the wealthy in hopes of receiving a pastry called a soul cake. Children later joined in on this tradition, asking wealthy families for sweets or spare coins. Thus emerged the “treating” side of the Halloween tradition we know as trick-or-treating.

Similar All Souls’ Day practices arose in Scotland and Ireland. Children dressed in costumes to go “guising” and performed small tricks for the homeowners in exchange for treats. The Irish people brought this tradition with them to America in the nineteenth century as they fled from Ireland’s potato famine. American children, however, preferred pranks over the traditional innocent performances in exchange for treats.

Spring Arbor University (SAU) freshman Cassidy Crim loved participating in Halloween traditions as a child.

“I used to double-hit houses for candy and I would turn my cape inside out or do something a little bit different,” Crim said.

As she grew older, Crim also enjoyed passing out candy to other trick-or-treaters.

“I climbed up in the tree, dressed up like a cat, and I would throw candy at the kids trying to get it in their bags,” Crim said.

In 2016, Americans are predicted to spend $8.4 billion on Halloween candy alone. Skittles became America’s favorite candy in the summer of 2016. Approximately 171 million people will celebrate the holiday this year, whether it be dressing up in homemade costumes or throwing candy at children passing by.



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