The origin of Halloween

When did people start carving pumpkins?

A look into Halloween’s past

Halloween has been celebrated in America for almost 200 years, but where did this tradition come from? When did people start enjoying scary stories, dressing up and eating so much candy they didn’t even want to think about Thanksgiving? Let’s go back in time to uncover the history of this holiday.

Halloween in ancient times

That’s right, we’re going back 2,000 years to study the Celts who lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. According to, the Celts would celebrate their new year on Nov. 1, marking the end of summer harvests and the beginning of a cold and dark winter that loomed ahead. On the day that is now called Halloween, they would celebrate Samhain which was a day they believed the ghosts of loved ones they lost would return to Earth. The Celts wore costumes during the celebration typically made from animal heads and skin. When the Roman Empire conquered most of the Celtic territory in 43 A.D., the festivities of the Romans combined with the Celtic holiday of Samhain.

The progression of Samhain

Once the ninth century rolled around, Christianity spread throughout Celtic lands and blended with ancient Celtic rites. The church made Nov. 2 All Souls Day to honor the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain while everyone dressed up as saints, angels and devils. It was also called All-Hallows Eve which eventually became Halloween. In the newly formed America, though protestant systems limited the celebration in colonial New England, an American version of Halloween materialized and by the mid-nineteenth century, annual festivities were celebrated with stories of the dead, fortune telling and dancing.


As the American version of Halloween used European traditions, costumes were one of these “borrowed” traditions. Children would dress up and walk to houses in their neighborhood to ask for money and food. In the late 1800s, Halloween in American started to become a holiday about community and neighborly-get-togethers which took the fear out of the holiday. Though Halloween parties were thrown throughout the early 1900s discouraging tricks children played, trick-or-treating was brought back between 1920 and 1950. Trick-or-treating was seen as an inexpensive way for communities to celebrate the holiday and prevent tricks children had by giving them treats. Halloween is seen as the second-largest commercial holiday right behind Christmas.


The tradition of carving pumpkins originated from Ireland and Scotland where people would carve scary faces into turnips and potatoes. The practice started after the myth of Stingy Jack, a man who tricked the devil and ended up wandering the Earth with a burning coal after his death. People would place their carved variations of Jack-O-Laterns in their window and near their doors to scare away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. The tradition was brought to America by Irish and Scottish immigrants who found that pumpkins, a native fruit of America, were great to carve faces into.

Halloween superstitions

There have always been superstitions related to Halloween, some being things like ghosts and black cats. Black cats supposedly cause bad luck, as in the Middle Ages, people believed witches could turn themselves into black cats to avoid being detected. Spirits are also believed to be prominent during Halloween, as in the Celtic ages, people would set out extra plates at the dinner table and left treats on their doorsteps for their passed loved ones. Today, ghosts are viewed as scarier and often mischievous. There are plenty of horror movies and books that show possessed spirits haunting families and driving them out of their homes.

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