CommGap International Language Services


All Hallows’ Eve Origins

October 29th, 2014

On October 31st of each year, children from around the country put on costumes of their favorite historical and current characters and go to neighbor’s and friend’s homes and shout “trick or treat” with the intent of receiving candy and other treats. Carved pumpkins with glittering lights illuminate the porches of these same homes as children and their parents roam the streets. Due to the holiday’s largely pagan beginnings, Halloween was not a widely observed holiday in America until the 20th century, as much of the country is rooted in strong Christian beliefs (Ankerberg). The current traditions of celebrating Halloween are not altogether specific to the United States as more countries are celebrating this holiday now more than ever. The origins of the holiday may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the rich history of Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween is believed to have originated in Ireland at some point during the 10th century. The holiday was originally referred to as Samhain, signaling the “end of summer” (“Samhain”) and was started in order to “mark the beginning of winter and the start of ‘the dark half’ of the year” (Flowers). The festival was in celebration of the last harvest of the year and paid tribute to the dead in correspondence with All Saints Day which followed Samhain on November 1st (Flowers). According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it was in Ireland that the tradition of children dressing up in costumes and wandering around neighborhoods, in pursuit of sweet goodies, was started and continues today. This tradition was incorporated into Samhain, or the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Ankerberg), during the 16th century. Children would dress in costumes along with carrying “turnip lanterns” and perform actual tricks in exchange for treats (Flowers). At the time, many people believed that the ghosts and spirits of those that had passed on would come back to haunt the living on the night of Hallows’ Eve, known today as Halloween. Individuals believed that by wearing masks and disguises that the dead spirits would be unable to harm them and continue on. They would often light candles, lanterns, and bonfires to ward off the spirits (Ankerberg). Today, Ireland is the only place where Halloween is considered a national holiday (Ankerberg).

Ireland and America are certainly not the only countries that celebrate Halloween festivities. While other countries throughout the world celebrate Halloween as traditionally recognized by the American culture, many others have their own variation of the holiday to honor the dead at different times during the year as well. According to Flowers, most cultures “pay tribute to the dead by performing traditional rituals, dressing up in costumes or throwing a huge celebration” (Flowers).

To find out more about the various rituals and traditions found in countries throughout the world you can visit:

Works Cited

Ankerberg, John, John Weldon, and Dillon Burroughs. “The Pagan Roots of Halloween.” The Christian Broadcasting Network. The Facts on Halloween. n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Flowers, MaDonna. “Halloween Traditions Around the World.”, 28 June 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

“Samhain”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014 .