The Origins of Halloween

Every Oct. 31 most  American’s dress up, carve pumpkins and collect candy. But have you ever wondered why we follow such traditions, or what the origin story behind Halloween is and what makes it so eerie? 

Halloween originates back almost 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. Samhain was used as a celebration to welcome the harvest and usher in the winter. During the festival celebrants believed that the barriers between the physical and spirit world would break, allowing both good and bad spirits to come back to Earth.

The celebration of Samhain was mandatory for every Celtic and included priests lighting community fires, the sacrificing of animals for the Gods and the use of costumes to ward off bad spirits. Failure to participate in these activities would bring illness or death as punishments from the Gods. 

During this time Celts would also leave offerings for the mythological creatures they feared, including fairies and Slaugh, a spirit that would come from the West to enter houses and steal souls. 

Not all spirits were to be feared, though. During Samhain celebrants also reconnected with their fallen ancestors. This led to the celebration of Dumb Supper, an event used to invite ancestors into homes for a giant feast. During Dumb Supper children would play games to amuse the dead, while the adults would update them on the past year’s news.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Celtics flooded to America, bringing their beloved festival of Samhain with them. Americans saw this festival as a great way to strengthen communities by creating celebrations where neighbors would share stories of the dead, and dance and sing. 

Borrowing the Celtic traditions, Americans began dressing up in costumes, playing pranks and hosting Halloween parties. Over time, community members started handing out small treats in hopes of preventing children from playing tricks on them, creating the tradition of trick-or-treating. 

Nowadays Halloween is no longer seen as a day where spirits roam the Earth and can instead be celebrated however you please. Whether you trick-or-treat, dance at the Scream or stay in and binge watch horror movies, you’re still celebrating America’s spookiest holiday.


Story by: Grace Conley
Photo courtesy of