Halloween history: From Celts to Saints

By Amy Florom
Staff Writer

Halloween usually brings one thing to most people’s minds—the candy. However, this is not all there is to Halloween.

This holiday began over 2,000 years ago when the Celtics celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. The night before, Oct. 31, they celebrated Samhain, when the ghosts and spirits of the dead were believed to return to Earth. To celebrate this event, the Celtics would dress up in costumes, make huge bonfires and make animal sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

By A.D. 43, Romans conquered most of the Celtic territory, and during the 400 years that they ruled this land, some of their customs got tied into the Celtic traditions. One of these customs was the celebrations of Pomona, a day to worship the goddess of fruit and trees. This probably explains the tradition of “bobbing for apples” that we practice today.

The influence of Christianity eventually spread into the Celtic lands. By the 800’s, Pope Boniface IV tried to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a similar church-approved holiday. He declared Nov. 1 All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. This day was also called All-hallows, and the night before became All-hallows Eve.

Later, in A.D. 1000, Nov. 2 became known as All Souls Day, a celebration similar to the Druid celebration of Samhain. The celebrations consisted of huge bonfires, costumes, and parades. Poor people would beg for food, and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes.” This was called going “a-souling” and is probably where trick-or-treating originated.

All-hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day ultimately combined into Hallowmas, which has turned into Halloween today.

--Complied with assistance from