A Spooky Season’s Spooky History: The Origins of Halloween
Updated: Nov 9
Christine Banh, Grade 12
The special time of the year, consisting of a night filled with screams and terrors, costumes and pumpkin-carving, tricks and treats, is what makes a daring Halloween! Today, Halloween is viewed as a spooktacular holiday where individuals can purchase fun costumes and go out for the night and collect sweet treats from the community. However, what is the true history of Halloween and how has it evolved since?
Celtic people celebrate the new year on November 1st because there is a belief that this is when the season of summer ends, and the harsh winters begin. However, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain takes place before this joyous celebration. This is the night where communities dress in costumes and dance around bonfires in the hopes to protect themselves from the apparition of the dead, or in other terms, ghosts. Celts marked this evening to be “the division between the light and dark halves of the year” (McIntosh, 2012), where the dead can return to Earth and visit the living. During this tradition, Celts attempt to read others’ fortunes and or destinies and bring animals and crops as sacrifices to Celtic deities. In addition, communities prepare feasts for the dead and create lanterns, which our society recognizes today as jack-o-lanterns. Afterward, the large bonfire is re-lit because they believe that it will protect them during the cold and brutal winters. Hence, the reasoning behind Halloween’s “spooky” or “haunted” associations.
As Christianity slowly gained power and charge, these traditions have changed. There has been a discussion about whether Halloween actually originates from All Saints’ Day, which is a feast in honour of the saints in the Church. Christians believe that the term ‘Halloween’ is obtained from All Hallows Eve, which is the night that takes place before All Saints’ Day. As mentioned, Celts would dress up and dance around a bonfire to protect the community from evil spirits. In response, individuals receive treats for their sacrifices. Between the early and mid-1900s, the tradition of trick-or-treating was believed to have developed from the idea of families not wanting to have tricks played on them, so in response, they were called to give treats, such as candy, to young children. The traditions evolved into children dressing up in these fun costumes, going door-to-door trick or treating.
Halloween in Canada
These different traditions were later brought to Canada by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the mid-1800’s. It is said that the first appearance of children dressing up for Halloween is recorded in 1898, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Later in 1927, the tradition of trick-or-treating started in Blackie, Alberta. How Halloween is celebrated today is clearly different from how it was originally in the past.
As years go by, society has begun to anticipate Halloween! However, over these years, they have also begun to overlook the history and its origins. It is important that the history behind this special holiday is shared amongst generations because it allows people to recognize the different perspectives belonging to the Celtics and Christians, and why this holiday came to be.