The History of Halloween in the United States

Halloween Image

There comes the time in a year when spooky decorations are put up, pumpkins are carved into jack-o-lanterns, various costumes are donned, Trick-or-Treating is done, festive gatherings are held, and sweet treats are consumed. This tradition known as Halloween is celebrated every 31st of October. Sure, it is a funfilled event observed every year, but how did it come to be?

Occurring on the evening before All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, Halloween is actually the shortened term of All-hallow-even. This tradition is mostly of Celtic origin, derived from the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, pronounced as “Sow-en”. During Samhain, Celts set crops on fire to produce huge bonfires and wore animal heads and skins as costumes to ward off evil spirits. Around 43AD, the Romans conquered the Celtics, and many of the Celtic’s festivals were then adapted by the Romans, which they merged with their religious celebrations. Came the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated the date of All Saints Day on November 1. Later on, elements of Samhain were then carried out into the celebration of All Saints Day, as the evening before was then coined All Hallows Eve, thereafter was then called Halloween. It was in the 1800’s when European immigrants came to America that some European practices in Halloween were then also acquired by Americans.

On the evening of October 31 is the pagan celebration of the Celtic holiday, Samhain, which paves the way for the Celtic New Year on November 1. It also marked the end of the harvest and summer, as well as the beginning of the dark cold winter, a period that the Celts associated with human death. They believed that during this time, the dead came out among the world of the living.

During the celebration, they left food, and Druids or Celtic Priests lit up crops into huge bonfires. For according to their belief, some spirits are mischievous; caused trouble; and damaged crops, thus, the light from the bonfire drove away the evil spirits. They also sometimes carved lanterns out of vegetables, such as squash or lit candles to light the way for good spirits. Another belief of the Celts, who are primarily dependent on the constantly changing natural world, is that the presence of the spirits aided for an easier prediction for the Druids of what lies in the future, which is an important source of direction for them during winter. They attempted to tell each others’ fortunes while dressed in their animal head and skin costumes.

The following day, when the celebration has ended, they re-lit their hearth fires wherein the sacred bonfire had been extinguished earlier in the evening in order for their protection in the coming winter.

Combination of Roman and Celtic Festivals

Within the 400 years that the Romans ruled the Celts, there were two Roman festivals that were fused with Samhain. Those festivals are the Feralia, the commemoration of the passing of the dead and the day honoring Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and trees, whose symbol is the apple, which explains the Halloween tradition of bobbing of apples.


Pomona, by Nicolas Fouché, c. 1700

All Saints Day

It was on May 13 609AD that All Martyrs Day was established in the Western Church. However, Pope Gregory III included in the festival, the saints along with the martyrs, and moved it to November 1.

Furthermore, around 9th century, Christianity had spread throughout the Celtic islands.

All Souls Day which the church designated on November 2 in 1000 AD was also similar to Samhain in some ways. It was celebrated through big bonfires, parades, and dressing up as saints; angels; and devils.


All Souls’ Day by William-Adolphe Bouguereau


All Saint’s Day by Fra Angelico

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