Every October 31st, kids around the country dress up in costumes and walk door-to-door to collect absurd amounts of candy. If you are a college student, Halloween typically starts a few days earlier and involves anywhere from one to four costumes and a lot less candy. While Halloweekend has come and gone, Halloween itself is just arriving and it’s the perfect time to look at where some of your favorite Halloween traditions (besides binge drinking) originate.
The holiday itself is the modern version of the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” This festival was originally meant to celebrate the coming of the new year, as the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. While this seems like a happy celebration, the origin of the spookier elements of the modern holiday are rooted in the Celtic belief that the boundary between the world of the living and the dead became blurred, allowing spirits of the dead to return to Earth.
Around 1000 C.E., the Church designated November 2nd as All Souls Day to commemorate the dead and hopefully replace the Celtic festival of Samhain with a church-sanctioned event. It was around this time that the custom of dressing up appeared as people dressed up as saints angels, and devils. The modern name for the holiday has its origins around this time as well, when All Saints Day was moved to November 1st. All Saints Day was also called All-hallows and the night before, October 31st, became known as All-hallows Eve. Even today Halloween is sometimes referred to as All-hallows Eve.
Halloween came to America with the first European colonists but was not widely celebrated until the large influx of Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth century. As the holiday become more popular, there was a move to shift the focus to community rather than pranks, ghosts, and witchcraft. This led to the popularization of trick-or-treating, which originally derived from the custom of young, single women performing tricks to reveal their future husband’s name.
Finally, every college student’s favorite spooky tradition, the Halloween party, originated in the 1950s as town officials across the United States attempted to curb the high levels of vandalism that occurred around the holiday. This seems somewhat ironic now when we consider the excessive debauchery involved in the countless Halloweekend parties that occur at colleges across the country.
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about where some of your favorite Halloween traditions come from, you should kick back with a bag of miniature candies and put on your favorite scary movie!