Double, Double Toil and Trouble:

The Origins of Halloween and

Halloween Traditions

By Francyne Hari 

Posted on November 15, 2017 at 6:44 PM PDT

As the leaves change their colors, and weather begins to drop in temperature, the anticipation of Halloween every year hangs in the air. Children, teens, and adults alike plan their Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating routes, and prepare for a night of revelry that marks the beginning of the holiday season.

Halloween is among one of the most popular holidays in America and is spreading in popularity to other countries. Although Halloween pales in spending compared to other holidays, Halloween is mainly a social holiday rather than a gift giving one. The expectation of gifts beyond candy is almost nonexistent, which explains why the spending for Halloween doesn’t even compare to the amount spent for other holidays such as Valentine's Day or Christmas. Still, Halloween is becoming a holiday to celebrate across the globe, due to the various traditions and origins that have made the holiday something special.

#1 Samhain - precursor to Halloween

Originally, there was a Celtic holiday celebrating a time of the year where the Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living. This time of year was called Samhain. Samhain took place over several days, in modern times this time corresponds to the time of October 31st through November 2nd.

#2 In Western Christianity and Other Cultures

When Christianity began to spread throughout Europe, missionaries took the tradition of Samhain and adapted it to fit Christianity instead of outright abolishment of the tradition and other pagan holidays. This is how All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, also known as Allhallowtide, became part of the Christian tradition. These holidays fall on the dates of October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd.

In the Mexican culture, the days of October 31st through November 2nd refer to Dia de los Muertos. According to Stephanie Lopez, a student of Mexican heritage here at Dominican, these days are about celebrating life as well as the life of deceased loved ones.

#3 Stingy Jack - Jack-o’-lanterns

Jack-o’-lanterns started out as a tradition in the British Isles. Instead of pumpkins, people would carve faces into large turnips or beets. In Irish folklore, Stingy Jack was a character who invited the Devil out for drinks. When it came time to pay for the drinks, Jack didn’t want to pay for his share and tricked the Devil into picking up the tab while Jack bailed. In order to prevent the Devil from enacting revenge, Jack made the Devil promise not to come after his soul when he died. When Jack eventually died, God would not let him into heaven and as promised, the Devil would not let him into hell either. Jack became a wandering soul, with only the light of a burning coal, given to him by the Devil, to light his way in the dark. This legend became a prank in which people would carve out vegetables and stick candles into them to scare their friends. As the tradition was brought over to America, pumpkins became more common and what started out as a prank, become a Halloween tradition.

#4 Trick-or-Treat

The tradition of trick-or-treating can be traced back to several different forms of “ritual begging” that go back to the Middle Ages and was known as “souling”. Some people would go out and beg for food, money, or other things on the night before All Soul’s Day. Trick-or-treating, as we know it today, didn’t exist until the 1930s when trick-or-treating happened on a case by case basis. Whether trick-or-treating was done depended on the neighborhood as Halloween celebrations were planned with neighborhood groupings in mind.

Cover Photo: NY Curbed