A History of Halloween

Day Four of our Five Days of Halloween celebration looks at the history of this ancient holiday.

The origins of Halloween are approximately 2,000 years old, originating with a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”). Celebrated at the end of the harvest season, Samhain was a time to prepare for winter and honor the dead. This was not a holiday for “devil worship” (ancient Celts did not worship anything resembling the Christian devil) and it was not until many years later that supernatural entities came to be associated with the day.

As Halloween traditions grew over the centuries, people eventually began dressing up in costume and trick-or-treating. Mass rituals for soliciting food were common and it is suspected the practices evolved from “mumming,” “guising” and “souling.” These were different methods used for disguising oneself and going door-to-door when asking for food, sometimes wearing costumes to do short performances.

While trick-or-treating didn’t start in the United States until the 1940s, the act of playing Halloween tricks was common by the late 1800s. The pranks started out relatively harmless with tipping over outhouses and egging houses, but by the 1920s, they were becoming far more serious and dressing up to go trick-or-treating was encouraged as an alternative.

For more information on the History of Halloween, watch this short video from the History Channel:

The History of Halloween by Benjamin Radford was a primary source used for this blog post.

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