The History Behind Halloween
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. No, we don’t get the day off work or school schedules, but we do get to celebrate and fully enjoy all the fun that comes from this unique day in late October. I was curious how this holiday came into being, so I did some research on the history behind Halloween.
We lived in Farmington, UT for about 10 years and created a tradition many of our old friends still remind us of. I had a recipe for donuts made using potatoes and we called them Spudnuts. At the time, there was actually a company that made a product with the same name. As I remember, they had kids go door to door around Halloween selling them.
I remember coming home from work early and starting a batch so we could have them ready once the sun went down. We spread the word throughout the neighborhood that the Loosli’s were having their annual Halloween Spudnut and Apple Cider get-together. We’d tell the people to have their kids wrap up trick-or-treating, put them to bed, and come over for some treats and conversation.
Over the years those annual get-togethers built up to where we had close to 100 special friends come. We even had people who had moved to a new neighborhood call to see if they could come over. Life is filled with special memories like this, and I cherish everyone.
From my reading, I see a number of different ideas about how Halloween got its start and some of the unique aspects that have developed over the years.
In case you missed this post, How to Make Vintage Glazed Doughnuts
The History Behind Halloween
How Far Back Do We Have to Look to See Halloween Celebrated?
As with so many holidays and special celebrations, Halloween has some religious overtones. Over 2,000 years ago there were Pagans of Celtic origin who believed that at least once a year the dead would return to earth and walk among the living. This belief tended to be tied to summer’s end when the harvest was taking place, and before winter set in for the season.
Those celebrations were marked with traditional activities like dressing up in costumes depicting the dead or Satanic characters to either ward off evil spirits or blend in with them so as not to be noticed. They often would start bonfires to light up the night. These celebrations were traditionally held on the last day of October.
The celebration at that time was called Samhain and was common in what we now call the United Kingdom, parts of northern France, and Ireland.
With the proliferation of Christianity in Europe at this time, history tells us that by around the 11th century and with the expansion of the Roman Empire, a new holiday was established on November 1st and it was called All Saints Day. Many feel the clergy at the time wanted to overshadow the Pagan celebrations with one more in line with Christian beliefs and traditions.
There are a number of names given to the night right before All Saints Day, such as All-Hallows, All Hallows Eve, and then Halloween. You can see the religious influences of the day creeping into these celebrations.
How Did These Celebrations Make Their Way to America and Other Countries?
As the Europeans who had been celebrating a holiday with Halloween-like activities began their heavy immigration to the western hemisphere and elsewhere, they brought with them their beliefs and related events and celebrations that marked key times of the year, including Halloween.
When you add the challenging times brought on by the Salem Witch trials and the belief in witches and Satanic worship, Halloween took on special meaning and significance. Many believed that the witches actually take the form of black cats or that the Devil gave witches black cats to be their friends and companions as they went about their witch-related duties. For centuries these black cats were thought of as evil, and superstitions still persist in that regard.
As Europeans immigrated to other parts of the world, including many Asian countries, the traditions and celebrations of a Halloween-like day went with them and have persisted.
Do We Know Where the Tradition of Pumpkins Being Carved into Jack-O’-Lanterns Came From?
Ireland appears to be the source for the now common Halloween exercise of carving jack-o’-lanterns. There is an old folktale about a man called Stingy Jack who had some dealings with the Devil. Jack tricked the Devil into giving him a coin which he put in his pocket next to a silver cross.
As the story continues, when Jack died neither God nor the Devil would allow him to enter their realm, but the Devil did give him some burning coal that Jack put in a carved-out-turnip so he could see his way around. Over the years people used other things to hold the burning coal during their celebrations, including pumpkins since they were much easier to carve.
Why Do Kids Go Door to Door Trick-Or-Treating?
From my reading, I found historical references that indicate during the Middle Ages people would often dress up on Halloween to look like demons and ghosts. They would travel around the area performing special skits and do tricks for people who would watch their antics. As payment for their tricks, they would receive food and drinks, so the term, trick-or-treat.
Thank goodness Halloween has evolved to be a fun day with various activities that bring us joy, memories, and lots of candy and other “treats.” Who doesn’t look forward to an evening where adults and kids can dress up, visit friends and neighbors, and hopefully enjoy safe activities full of spooks that’ll likely leave us with a smile on our faces?
Some Fun Halloween Facts and Figures
A few years ago, various agencies gathered some interesting information about what we Americans do and how much we spend to make Halloween the special holiday we all look forward to and thoroughly appreciate and enjoy:
In the US we spend approximately $377 million on those jack-o’-lanterns each Halloween season.
Hard to believe, but we spend about $3.2 billion on the costumes we dress up in.
In order of spending, we spend the most on costumes, followed by decorations and candy.
Chocolate tends to be the most popular candy “treats” handed out, and includes bars and other candies like Hersey Kisses. The least popular are home-baked items and fruit.
We haven’t ever done it, but around 30 million people actually dress up their pets for Halloween. Those costumes include characters like a superhero, a hot dog, and even pumpkins.
We’ll spend a staggering $8.8 billion each year during the Halloween season to make it a memorable time of year.
Holidays are something we all look forward to, no matter what time of year. I’ve always said that time goes by so much slower for kids as they grow up because they are constantly waiting for the next holiday to come around. With all the negativity in the world today, let’s make this Halloween especially fun and exciting by cooking special meals, be generous with our treats, and plan dinners and other special occasions with those we love. May God bless this world. Linda
Copyright Images: Halloween Pumpkins Depositphotos_74069859_S
15 thoughts on “The History Behind Halloween”
We’ve lived here for 27 years and have had a total of 1 trick or treater. LOL Two if you count his Mom. They were our neighbors. I do till buy candy, but only what I like. I do give some to our grandchildren when they visit.
Christmas is actually my favorite holiday. With Easter the second.
We used to be able to hand out home made treats. I remember many years my friends moms would make things like popcorn balls, home made doughnuts. One of our old neighbors would pass out mini Wonder bread loaves (he worked for Wonder bread bakeries). Those were highly prized amongst us kids, imagine a whole loaf of bread. Granted they were teeny tiny but to a 5 year old that was the best. My parents gave out big juicy red apples and my friends (and their parents) loved them. But as with all good things it only took one or two nasty people to harm a child and that all stopped. Now no one lets their kids go out unless it’s to a “safe” place like a church or a Trick or Trunk where parents go to a parking lot and stand by their car trunks and pass out candy. My husbands club does an annual Trick or Treat in the Park during the day the Sunday before Halloween. The Sheriffs Dept, Fire Dept come along with many of our local businesses and local groups, the kids come in costume and do their Trick or Treating then. They get to see Sheriffs cars, the fire trucks, parents get to meet some of the local clubs and business owners. It’s been very popular and IF there is any candy left, the club takes it to the local food bank to include when people go there. In the twenty years since we’ve lived here no one comes to our house, so we’ve been going to Son 2’s. Our subdivision doesn’t have sidewalks and we are on a VERY busy north /south road. So the Hubs and I will go to Son2’s again this year and while they are out, we’ll be passing out the candy there if it doesn’t get cancelled like last year but I suspect that trick or treating in neighborhoods is going to be thing of the past. The other day when I was standing in the check out line I actually heard a couple of younger (30’s maybe) women talking about how much of a hassle Halloween was, one hoped they’d cancel Halloween this year. The one lady told her friend about the park and said that’s all she’s going to let her kids do this year. What a shame.
Hi Kathy, oh my gosh the mini Wonder Bread loaves! Those would be a treasure!! It’s too bad that a few people do not understand the Halloween spirit! I miss putting on my black cape and witch’s hat! It was so fun. I remember passing out freshly picked apples! I made homemade doughnuts for years on Halloween! It’s too bad the woman thinks Halloween is a hassle, she’s missing out. It is a shame. Linda
Yeah, it is a shame but that’s the mind set of SOME people. I remember and not too long ago ,we had people bring their kids to our old neighborhood. It was so much fun every one was fun and nice but not any more. We got to see the kids from school that lived in the older neighborhoods and didn’t have too many young families in them. Linda, get that cape and hat out and dress up, I do every year . Pish tosh on those that think I’m too old. I have a blast every year. I do have to say in the town where Son2 lives, a lot of the parents do dress up to take their kids out.
Terry I’m so sorry it has been so bad for you. That’s awful.
Hi Kathy, I love the cape and the hat but we don’t have any kids come by. I’m moving so I may bring it out! We are moving about a week before Halloween! We will be living with our daughter until our home is built. Her neighborhood has a lot of kids! Yay!! Linda
Awesome Linda. Hope the new home gets done soon for you.I hope there are LOTS of trick or treaters for you.
Hi Kathy, thank you!! Me too!! I love those little Trick or Treaters!! Linda
It seems as if all holidays are being targeted for extinction, other than the non-religious or Federal ones. I guess holidays are too much about personal freedom of expression. In our small neighborhood, we are openly talking about restricting trick-or-treat to the known neighborhood kiddos – we’ve all been seeing a pattern of increasing groups of older “outsiders” bringing kids down our streets for Halloween, and coming later in the evening than seems reasonable. This is followed, like clockwork, with a rash of break-ins over the following 2 weeks. The neighbors have all had enough of being scoped out and targeted. It’s aggravating and demoralizing, and not how we want to live. We all cherish our childhood Halloween memories and would love for all these little ones to have such memories of their own. The callous goverment control freaks and the “entitled” thugs are robbing our children’s futures in far too many ways. Celebrate everything you can, as best you can!
Hi Terry, it really is sad how things have changed. We really do need to have these memories for the littles ones. It’s not fun to think about being targeted for breaking, I’m sorry to hear that. I remember people with 15 passenger vans dropping their kids off, I love to hand out candy to our neighbors, but not the entire town. Those entitled thugs really are rubbing our kids of memories. Celebrate like you said, as best we can.Linda
Thank you for the historical perspective.
Hi Chuck, thank you for your kind words. I love Halloween, the good old days of the little neighborhood kids knocking and saying, Trick or Treat! I really do miss it! Linda
I have wonderful memories of Halloween growing up but I, too, don’t trust the sicko’s out there anymore. While I don’t have young children in my home anymore (great-grandma here), we do support our Ward’s Trunk or Treat/Chili Cookoff each year. Seems to be the only safe way to go anymore. What a sad society we live in anymore!
“Fall” is my favorite season, including Thanksgiving. I love to decorate for Fall, throw in a couple of happy/colorful Halloween decorations for the month of October and I’m good. I’m sooo over the commercialization of Christmas and only do simple, country-style decorations. Oh, and throw in a little Disney decorations just to cutesy it up a bit, too. I love to make all the foods and goodies for those holidays, too. (great recipes here, Linda!) Alas, too many food allergy issues are popping up and even that is becoming difficult!
Hi Robbie, Oh, I love to make chili on Halloween! Oh my gosh, more memories! I love decorations for fall too! It’s so fun! Linda
I went trick or treating as a kid but I never let my kids go. I would buy them a bag of their favorite candy and dole it out all year. They did go to their grandparents and great grandparents and one Aunt but that was all and they didn’t go dressed up or on Halloween. We like to celebrate the Jewish Halloween although it is not called that. It’s called Purim. Kids go to parties and families have big family parties and the kids play games and their favorite thing is the gragger which makes a lot of noise and whistles which they use the noisemaker and whistle whenever someone says the name of Haman. The holiday is also called the feast of lots and it is celebrated
This is the link where I got the following information on when it is celebrates: According to the Hebrew calendar, Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (and it is celebrated on Adar II in Hebrew leap years which occur every two to three years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies. In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, Purim was celebrated on the 15th of the month of Adar on what is known as Shushan Purim, since fighting in the walled city of Shushan continued through the 14th day of Adar. Today, only Jerusalem and a few other cities celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar. Which will be March 16 &17 in 2022 or the Jewish year of 5782. Kids get to do the same things they would do on Halloween but we just have big parties at Synagogues or Christian Churches who also celebrate the Jewish Holidays. Gives the kids a good foot into the Bible.
For more involved information go to ifcj.org the website for “International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Hi Jackie, isn’t it wonderful that we have so many different religions/faiths that celebrate in such fun ways? Holidays are truly for family and friends. Life is so good! Thanks for sharing, I love it! Linda