Halloween History

Halloween History

Happy Halloween!

We thought today was the perfect day to dive into the history of Halloween…

Halloween has a long history that dates back thousands of years to the pagan celebrations of Samhain, the ancient Celtic new year festival. This festival was celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November. On that night, it was believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was at its’ thinnest and that the souls of the dead (including evil spirits!) could walk the earth and interact with humans. As the Celts believed that the barrier between the two worlds could be crossed during Samhain, they left offerings for fairies and dressed up as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them.  

When Pope Gregory III declared 1st November as the day to remember and honour the apostles, the saints and martyrs of the Church in the 9th century, the traditions associated with Samhain became incorporated into this; the evening of 31st October became a night to mark the passage of souls through Purgatory. This day was known as All Hallows Eve.

Many of the traditions that started in the medieval period continue today. Trick or treating has evolved from the popular tradition of souling. Medieval children and poor people would go door-to-door begging for alms and spiced cakes known as soul cakes. Each soul cake was said to represent a soul in Purgatory and in taking a cake the souler promised to pray for the dead of that household. This tradition usually happened on All Souls Day (November 2nd). Another tradition was guising: where young people would dress in costume and showcase talents, such as singing, reciting poetry or telling jokes in exchange for food, wine, money and other items. Creating bonfires was another tradition, along with carving turnips or jack-o-lanterns as they were known, and apple-bobbing.

Following on from the break with Rome, Queen Elizabeth I banned the celebration of All Souls Day as the doctrine of purgatory was abandoned. Nonetheless people loved the traditions associated with All Hallows Eve and many of them continue into the 21st century.