Dissecting Halloween: Origins of a Sugar-Filled Night

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

I hope you all found some time over the weekend to celebrate with costumes, candy, and scary movies. Though, Halloween didn’t originate as a night for ghoulish fun and tummy aches.


The origins of Halloween date back to Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival. Samhain is a sacred celebration honoring harvest’s end and the beginning of winter. It’s often considered the start of the spiritual New Year and is a fire festival. People light bonfires over a series of days and dress in masks and costumes to ward off lost spirits.

During the eighth century, Pope Gregory III borrowed Samhain traditions into a festival known as All Saints’ Day. A holy day, All Saints’ Day honors the Catholic Church’s saints; all Catholics must attend Mass on this day.

The night preceding All Saints’ Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve, which, eventually, became known as the modern day Halloween. While All Hallows’ Eve started as a night for prayer before a holy day, Queen Elizabeth’s break with the Holy See began the transition of All Hallows’ Eve to Halloween. Following this break, the English tradition of begging at peoples’ doors for “soul cakes:” shortbread cakes with currants for eyes, in exchange for the beggars praying for the household’s dead, grew. But the food itself became more important to the poor than praying for the dead.

When Irish immigrants, fleeing the potato famine, entered America, they brought with them the developing Halloween traditions from Ireland and England. Americans began wearing costumes and going from door-to-door asking for either money or food. Nowadays, children run from house-to-house, dressed up, and asking, “trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat,” while adults attend Halloween parties.

Even though Halloween is a far cry from its original purpose, spirituality and superstition still predominate the end of October and the start of November. People say goodbye to the hot weather and prepare for the cold of winter. There’s an electricity to the air, a dark energy that fuels all the stories of ghosts and goblins, and as people huddle around campfires, drinking hot chocolate, and sneaking in bits of leftover candy, there’s the feeling that we might not be the only ones watching the flames.

Have a wonderfully spooky night, and remember, that when the embers cool and go out, you might not be alone in the dark.

(Photo courtesy of Dan Taylor-Watt.)

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