Hallowed History


Halloween has never been a favorite of mine, but I am fascinated by the history of this quirky holiday.  While I may not dress up in costume or scare myself with horror movies, I can’t help but celebrate with some fun facts about the origins of Halloween.

The origins of Halloween can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain. They celebrated the new year on November 1st, a day associated with the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter.  This time of year was associated with human death because the Celts believed that on the night before the new year the boundary between the dead and the living became a little blurry. In other words, the ghosts of the dead came to visit on October 31st.


The idea of costumes originated with the Druids who dressed up in animal skins and told each other fortunes while a bonfire raged.  Later, costumes and masks were worn to scare off ghosts or avoid being recognized by dead sprits. To keep these spirits from entering the home, food and wine would be left on the front doorstep. In addition, carved turnips or gourds were illuminated as a means to ward off evil spirits, which eventually evolved into the tradition of carving pumpkins.

By 43 A.D. the Romans conquered most of the Celts and therefore Samhain was combined with Roman festivals. Feralia was a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead, while another day honored the goddess Pomona.  The symbol of Pomona was an apple, which might explain how the tradition of bobbing for apples began.

In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st as All Saints’ Day to honor all saints and martyrs.  Over time the holiday became known as All-hallows (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before, Samhain became known as All-hallow’s Eve.

In 1000 A.D. All Soul’s Day on November 2 became a day to honor the dead.  With this holiday, the trio of All-hallows Eve, All Saints’ and All Souls became known as the Hallowmas and they were celebrated with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.

Trick-or-treating most likely started in England during All Souls’ Day parades where poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes.”  These were given in exchange for a promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.  The practice was known as “going-a-souling” and was eventually taken up by children who would visit homes in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.  The church encouraged this as a means to replace the pagan practice of leaving food outside the door.

Over the course of the 20th century, these origins slowly transformed into modern celebrations of parties, festivals, costumes, haunted houses, and candy.  While the original meaning has been lost, the traditions remain alive and well.  Even though I’m not a fan of anything spooky, I do love the candy.

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On an unrelated note, this is my 100th post!  Yay!

c.b. 2011


33 thoughts on “Hallowed History

  1. 100th post–yayyyyyyyyyyy! You go, girl! And such a cool one, too! I share your hinkiness about scary moves–used to like them…but now there seems to be a callous cruelty about them that doesn’t sit well with me. Life is scary enough without movies that want to do that. Or maybe it’s just my patience with movies in general.
    Thanks for giving me a fun place to come read, and to think!!
    lynn (and talk about excited; my 500th skydiaries post is today!!)


  2. Congratulations on your 100th post!

    My mum actually still carves turnips instead of pumpkins – we’re from Scotland so she likes to preserve traditions and rebel against ‘evil American influences’. I admire her determination, especially considering how darned tough it is to carve out the insides of a turnip! In fact, last year I carved a pumpkin for the very first time and was bowled over to find that it’s practically hollow inside.

    Anyway, like you, I love looking back at the history behind the holidays we celebrate, and Hallowe’en is especially close to my own roots. Thought you might be interested to know that my mum might well be the last person alive who still carves turnips instead of pumpkins for Hallowe’en!



    • I can’t even imagine how difficult it is to carve a turnip! Bravo to your mother for keeping the old traditions alive! 🙂

      I don’t carve pumpkins every year, but you’re right they are practically hollow. Though, I could live without the “slimy” innards!

      Thanks for the congrats! 🙂


  3. Congratulations on 100th – is this since April? Way to go!!
    I, for one, an looking forward to doning a hat, putting on scary music, and waiting for the trick-or-treaters to come to my door. I have a tender spot for Halloween. Loved hearing about the history.
    Soul cake is playing over in my mind. Might be an inspiration for something.


    • We did roast pumpkin seeds last night, but that’s as festive as it got at my house! 🙂

      Ever since I learned about “soul cakes” I’ve been a little fascinated by them. Just the name alone is quite interesting!


  4. I guess here in Britland our autumn fire festival was always Bonfire Night on 5th November rather than Halloween – certainly for the past four hundred years. Commemorating the foiling of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605, it was encouraged as a patriotic celebration thereafter, and rather eclipsed the older Halloween customs, some of which actually continued but attached themselves to the new festival. Notably, I guess, would be ‘Mischief Night’, which is the evening before the 5th, when kids would play pranks on neighbours. These could be as simple as knocking on the door and running away (‘Knock Down Ginger’ was the name of this game), dismantling folks’ gates, or sabotaging the bonfire in the next neighbourhood. The craziest stunt I ever saw – and the most dangerous – was a group of six kids, three either side of a road, pretending to take up the strain on a line between them. In the half-dark any approaching motorist would imagine for a moment that her car was going to catch the line. Like I said, very, very dangerous.

    Our bonfires and firework displays on the 5th would be accompanied by open-air party games such as ducking for apples. Traditional food such as potatoes baked in the hot ashes, treacle toffee, and gingerbread are eaten.

    Halloween is only recently making a come-back here, for two reasons. Firstly the dominance of American culture, secondly the fact that the High Street will seize any chance to make a quid or two selling junk costumes!

    All Souls Day is actually on the 2nd November (okay, it’s moveable to an extent). A custom in parts of Britain was for children to go out guising on or around this date. They would go from door to door and sing the soul-cake song, a variant of which goes:

    Soul soul soul cake,
    Please good missus a soul cake.
    An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
    Any small thing to make us merry.
    One for Peter, two for Paul,
    Three for him who made us all…


    • I’ve heard about mischief night through literary sources, but I always wondered how much of a modern phenomenon it was. A trick I heard about involved tying one end of a rope to a doorknob on one side of the street and the other end of the rope to a doorknob on the other side of the street. It sounds pretty dangerous to me!

      The bonfire menu you’ve posted sounds absolutely divine. 🙂

      Thanks so much for posting the soul-cake song!


  5. Congrats on your 100th post. Keep going. I was a teacher, but I quit my job to stay at home with my son. Glad to have found your blog.
    I don’t care too much for Halloween. Seems like too much effort to get all dressed up for one day. But people love it. I enjoyed your post about Halloween.


    • Thanks for reading and the congrats. 🙂

      It’s always nice to meet a fellow teacher – I’ve always believed teachers never truly quit. We are always teachers whether in a classroom or not! 🙂

      People do seem to have fun running around in costumes, but alas I’ll probably never join them!

      p.s. Thanks for subscribing!


      • What do you teach? I would guess English? Yes, I have not really left the classroom completely, still enjoy seeing that bright light go on in a student’s eye. I love teachers who write, because as a teacher I know how hard it is to find time to write when teaching takes us so much free time (grading papers, lesson planning, looking for lessons, phone calls to students and parents, etc.) Your students are lucky to have a teacher who is modeling the path of writing by doing.

        I love the road photo too! Journal Your Journey!!


  6. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Original-Journal-by-memo/143320812361373?v=info

    Thought you might be interested in this journal project since you write about journaling so much. It would be a pleasure to have you sign the journal. You could just scan a page in. It is an interactive journal that random people sign I have met. There are three rules:
    1. There is a Front Door (Rated PG-13) – more formal and public so to speak
    2. There is a Back Door (Not Yet Rated) – more informal, private, like the back door of your best friend’s house, where the door’s unlocked and you can track mud through the kitchen.
    3. There are no rules. Write whatever you want
    Then the journal signatures get placed in a blank journal so others can start their own journal with inspirational quotes of people that are alive. email me at memomuse@gmail.com if you are interested in participating.
    All others interested n participating are welcome. Please pass on the link to the facebook page if you have friends who journal as well or are quirky and would write in a stranger’s journal.
    “Journal Your Journey
    Hope. Wish. Dream. Be.”
    ~ memomuse


  7. I’m not a fan of Halloween either. I sure do appreciate your research, I hadn’t a clue that Halloween was anything more than trick of treating! Oh, thank goodness for teachers!


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