For many people nowadays, Halloween is a celebration of all things scary –
an excuse to let our hair down as autumn moves towards winter. But behind
the parties, pumpkins and Halloween costumes, there’s a rich historical
The name ‘Halloween’ is first recorded in the 16th century and is taken from
the original name ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ for the night of October 31st – the day
before the Christian feast of All Hallows. All Hallows’ Eve was a time to
honour the saints and pray for the recently deceased. Traditions included
baking bread or cakes, and those celebrating would wear masks or costumes
to disguise themselves from the souls of the departed who were still walking
However, there are almost certainly pre-Christian origins for this festival. For
the early Celts, New Year’s Day was 1 November and the night before was
called Samhain. Samhain was the festival of the end of summer, and the time
when the physical and supernatural worlds were thought to be close together.
The Celts believed that this meant that magical things could happen, so
fires were built to help ward off the spirits and crops and animals would be
sacrificed to the gods. It was believed that spirits returned to the earth and
would tell the druids about what to expect in the coming year.
Historians believe that after the Roman invasion of the British Isles, the
Romans brought together Samhain with a number of their own festivals which
honoured the season or the dead, such as Parentalia, Pomona and Feralia.
Eventually, in the 7th century, the Roman Pope Boniface IV decreed that it
would become a day for celebrating Christian martyrs.
There are many practices that are now commonly associated with the 31
October, and throughout the world millions of people of different religions
mark the holiday with parties, fancy dress, trick or treating, pumpkin carving,
bonfires and spooky games. But while it might seem all fun and games, this is
a celebration with a real story behind it – and you can find out more about the