Why do we celebrate Halloween? History, origin and meaning

THE origins of Halloween can be traced all the way back to Pagan times and the Celtic festival of Samhain.

But these days Halloween is a time for trick or treating, costume parties, pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, bonfires, haunted houses and horror films. Here’s the lowdown on the spooky holiday…

 The day was originally a celebration of the dead


The day was originally a celebration of the deadCredit: Getty Images

This year, the festival falls on Monday October 31 – but how did this come about?

Why do we celebrate Halloween?

In the Celtic days, Britain was a Pagan country – and one of the most important celebrations was Samhain, or the Feast of the Dead.

 People have been dressing up on Halloween since Celtic times


People have been dressing up on Halloween since Celtic timesCredit: Getty Images

This date marked the end of the summer and harvest in Britain, Ireland and northern France and the beginning of winter, a time of year often associated with death.

It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals, and was widely observed across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Celts believed that on this day, the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – and ghosts returned to earth.

But the pagans didn’t fear the dead, and Samhain was a time for Druid prophecies.

They would build huge sacrificial bonfires and people would gather to burn crops and animal sacrifices as well as put on costumes to ward off evil spirits and ghosts.

People would also wear costumes, often consisting of animal heads and skins.

The name Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening which is also referred to as Allhalloween or All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve – the eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, which is better known as All Saints’ Day.

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Today’s tradition

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III made November 1 a day to honour saints and martyrs.

To keep the peace with the pagans, he made sure All Saints’ Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain.



Boo!Credit: Getty Images

The day before, October 31, became known as All Hallows’ Eve. And over time, this evolved into a secular event called Halloween.

Americans adopted the Halloween celebration when the Irish potato famine in 1846 led to mass migration to the States.

People began to dress up in costumes and go to their neighbour’s houses to ask for money or food – which has since evolved into modern-day trick or treating.

The day was then moulded into a community celebration, in a move away from ghosts, pranks and witchcraft.

Today, October 31 is a day for parties and haunted houses, with family and friends.

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