The History of Halloween

By: Gefen Selchen

The holiday we now know as Halloween has quite an interesting history. Its origins date back to the 9th and 10th centuries when a festival called Samhain was commonly celebrated in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. Samhain is believed to have Celtic pagan origins and was celebrated on November 1st, with the celebrations beginning in the evening of October 31st.

Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. It was one of four seasonal festivals, the others being Beltane, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh. The Celts celebrating the festival would build giant sacred bonfires where they would burn crops and sacrifice animals to the Celtic deities who were the gods and goddesses of the pre-Christian Celtics.

The Celts would wear costumes often made up of animal heads and skins, tell stories, sing, and dance around the bonfire.

These dances were very meaningful, telling stories of life and death, and the costumes were believed to help the living keep the ghosts/spirits away. 

Now, onto Halloween. The name itself, “Halloween,” is a mix between the words “Hallow,” meaning holy person, and “een,” which is a contraction of “eve,” or evening before. This mix of words comes from All Saints’ Day, a Christian celebration, celebrated November 1st. The word Halloween is essentially saying “the night before All Saints’ Day.” 

The reason Halloween is celebrated in North America is due to Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine between 1845 and 1852.  They brought the traditions associated with Samhain to America, where the holiday evolved to its current state and eventually spread throughout the world. 

Although there are many differences between Halloween and Samhain, such as how Halloween is not about the end of the harvest and start of winter, they both share themes related to the dead and spirits, as well spending time with others. Hopefully next time you go trick or treating, you take the time to share some of this new knowledge with your friends and family!


Albertella, Paul. “Happy Hallowe’en!” flickr, 31, Oct. 2012,

“Halloween 2021.” History, 14, Oct. 2021,

Kaplan, Juliana, and Cain Áine. “ The dark history behind Halloween is even more chilling than you realized.” Insider, 20, Oct. 2020,

Picard, Caroline and Schumer, Liz. “The Fascinating History of Halloween and How the Holiday Originated.” Good Housekeeping, 21, Jun. 2021,

Satanovsky, Gary. “First U.S. city celebrates Halloween.” Famous Daily,

“The history and facts of Halloween.” Reuters, 29, Oct. 2007,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.