How Halloween Came to Be

 **For a great listing of local Halloween festivities, click here or here.

Halloween-time is my favorite time of the year. Admittedly, I’m more in love with the harvest look that shakes the trees, the colder weather, and the infamous PSL, but I also relish the spooky-murky-creepiness of the only holiday that fits my love of X-Files, Harry Potter, and Tim Burton all into one day.

Photo Courtesy of ©Stockphoto.com//gianlucabartoli

Photo Courtesy of ©Stockphoto.com//gianlucabartoli

But besides making the mortuary a “cool” place to work for a month, this holiday is also the only one that actively recognized the dead in its celebration.

Do you know anything about the origins of Halloween?

Well, let me take you on a brief journey through this history of how Halloween came to be.

This “hallowed” or “holy” evening is owed to the Celts, the specifics of which are due in some parts it seems to the pagans and others to their Christian roots – it all seems debatable but, it did start over 500 years ago.

The Pagans: Originally referred to as “Samhain,” this holiday marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year – a time when people believed that spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world. Desiring the fairy blessing on crops, people would leave out food and drink for them (sound a bit like Santa Claus to anyone else?). They also thought that the souls of the dead would visit their former homes on this night. Families would set places for them at dinner and candles would be lit to help guide the spirits home. After the eating and drinking that people would go “guising” (wearing costumes) to either avoid the fairy spirits, or to dress like the souls of their dearly departed.

Photo Courtesy of http://vintagerosegarden.tumblr.com/post/11314145735

Photo Courtesy of http://vintagerosegarden.tumblr.com

The Christians: Halloween, as we know it, is the first of the three “Hallowmas” holidays with All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on the 2nd. Halloween comes from the term “Hallow even” where “even” is short for “evening” and somewhere along the line it got shortened to just Halloween.

The tradition of Trick-or-Treating seems to come from the practice of Christians baking “soul cakes” and distributing them to the poor (usually children) that came to their doors as a means of praying for the souls in purgatory. “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities” (Prince Sorie Conteh).

Here’s my favorite Halloween tale, it’s about Jack and his lantern:

“On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree.

Photo Courtesy of EugeneShatilo

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/EugeneSh

A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.”

UGH – Creepy right??

Ok, so there you have it, the super-short history of how Halloween came to be.

If you keep reading the Wikipedia page (where I got much of this), you’ll see that in Ireland they carved turnips until they discovered the pumpkin in North America. Turnips!

The True Meaning of Christma . . . I mean, Halloween:

Make things right. While we wear costumes for fun today instead of to ward off vengeful spirits, it’s still a good reminder to be at peace with your friends and family. To say what you’ve been meaning to, to hug the ones who matter, and to hand a snickers bar to that special someone.

Remember the dead. Whether that is carving a pumpkin in honor of them, lighting a candle, or even dressing like one of your loved one’s heroes. There are a lot of ways to remember them and in the midst of the hype to host parties and hand out good candy, it can be helpful to relax and just remember the origins and purpose of this day: to remember the souls we’ve lost.

So light a candle in memory of the person or pet you’ve lost and give candy to others with sweet word and good wishes on your lips.

Do so, and have a . . .

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/yuriz

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/yuriz

You can answer these questions or share your thoughts on the blog:

Will you remember someone this Halloween? Light a candle or carve a pumpkin?

 

What are your favorite Halloween traditions?

 

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I’m Molly and I write for the blog here at O’Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who’s deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try.
Work at O’Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.
I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

This entry was posted in Seasons of Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Lori

    Molly,
    Great post! I admittedly have never researched the meaning of Halloween. I thought it was just the day I used to get a pillowcase filled with candy! Now I will know the deeper meaning of the holiday and be looking over my shoulder for Jack and his lantern. Thanks for that!
    🙂 Lori

    • You’re so cute. Isn’t it fun to know the context & be smarter than everyone else? Well, you already know what that’s like but I’m glad I could share with you just a little bit! Happy Halloween, Lori!

  • Jeff Turner

    I love this Molly. The evolution and homogenization of this holiday is quite interesting. I wonder if we would still recognize this holiday in say two to three hundred years from now? Anyway, thank you for the quick history lesson.

    • Isn’t it fascinating? I think we’ve dumbed it down enough that a lot of change is probably unlikely, but you just never know!

      Thanks for reading!

  • Anne

    Thanks, Molly, for the history lesson.
    My favorite Hallowe’en was making a really cool pumpkin costume for April at about age 7 or 8. She got first prize at school and I was so proud of my “talent (??)”. She was beautiful in it, so that helped I am sure.
    Other than that, it was fun to have Hallowe’en in a small town of 500 where I grew up until I was 10. Much different than a large city. Everyone knew everyone. It was cold. It was crisp. It was safe and there were tons of leaves to kick through as we covered as much of the town as possible. I would only eat one candy per day and usually had the last piece around Easter!! Ha ha.

    • Anne, what fun memories! Your childhood Halloween sounds just blissfully perfect. Small towns are so ideal for evenings like this and the autumns in Michigan just seem magical. I hope to see one for myself one day.
      I’m not surprised about April’s costume either – you are so creative & caring, no wonder she won!
      I hope you have a Happy Halloween!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Molly, thanks for this interesting history of Halloween! How great to learn how the traditions started and the reasons behind them. It can be a struggle these days to remember the meaning behind holidays that have become so commercialized.

    We have some wonderful traditions in our sweet little neighborhood that, I hope, will help my children realize the significance of coming together as community. Leading up to Halloween, we “boo” neighbors by ringing the doorbell, leaving a sweet treat, then running away before they can see who left it; we have a neighborhood pumpkin carving night; and we have a neighborhood Halloween potluck (my sister-in-law always serves her famous “Ghoul”-lash) prior to sending the kids out trick-or-treating. Tonight when we carve the pumpkins I will share your story about Jack and his lantern!

    • Becky,
      I just love your neighborhood and your dedication to giving your kids such a fun-filled and community-rich childhood. They are going to look back on these days with golden memories that make them happy & heart-sick all at once.

      Thank you so much for reading, I can’t wait to hear more about all the festivities you get to enjoy tonight! Happiest of Halloweens to you!

  • Fitz

    Hey Molly,
    A very cool and interesting blog. I kept saying to myself…”I didn’t know that.” Our neighborhood is crazy busy on Halloween. I mean hundreds of kids and parents. It has such a reputation that people from outside our neighborhood will come to our streets just to be around all the craziness. Your blog has encouraged me to think about this time a year in a different light. Thanks. I think I’ll start referring to it as “Mollyween”.
    FItz

    • OH MY GOSH, hahahaha!! I feel so . . . complimented?? Thank you so much for reading this Fitz, I’m so glad you learned a bit more about this day. I would love to see your neighborhood in action some time, way too cool. Thank you so much for the new nickname, Happy Mollyween!

  • Sharon Watkins

    Hi Molly

    Another interesting blog from you Molly. I didn’t really know much about how this holiday got started! I just know that I loved it as a child for all the candy I was able to get in one night!!! I was a candy-holic (probably still am!) I didn’t really care too much about what costume I had on – it was all about the candy I was going to get!

    Yes, I will definitely light a few candles tomorrow night in honor of all of my co-workers who have suffered loss this past year within their family and I will also remember my own loved ones who have passed on. I like that spin on this holiday!

    Thanks for the background and fun way to continue to help us get to know you better…..who would have know that Halloween time is your favorite time of year!

    Sharon

    • Sharon you are so sweet! It’s so nice to find time to remember others and those we’ve lost in the middle of the fun & chaos. I think the balance of that is a good thing.

      Thank you so much for reading this & for sharing your kind thoughts on the blog, I’m so glad you enjoyed it : ) Happy Halloween Sharon!

  • Neil O’Connor

    Molly –
    Wow, I never knew my Halloween history lesson!
    I really thought it was a conspiracy of dental lobbyist in DC, trying to decay our teeth.
    Who knew? I love the history lesson.We are headed to the craziest/busiest street in San Clemente tomorrow, four or five homes are a Disney like experience. These homeowners are all general contractors who spend about 1-2 months dialing in their homes. The kids go nuts and the parents have a good time too! Lots of candy and adult beverages. Happy Halloween!!!

    • So fun, Neil! I’m excited to hear about your evening & little Jesse.

      Glad you enjoyed the blog & learned a thing or two about this crazy day.
      Have fun tonight, Happy Halloween!

  • Greg Forster

    Hi Molly,

    Thank you for sharing this. I believe that many of us have fond memories of prior Halloween holidays. As I think of this “holiday”, “event”, “party” or whatever one may wish to call it, I think back to previous ones that I have experienced.

    Doesn’t this one holiday remind us once again of time passing? Maybe we have a memory of a costume we wore as a kid, maybe we remember hanging with friends, or, how shall I say it? getting into “trouble” in the neighborhood as a teen on the loose.
    Maybe we remember a wild college party with friends or frat brothers/sorority sisters with incredibly inventive costumes made out of all sorts of cheap stuff. Maybe we remember growing up and transitioning from a “costume” to spending a few bucks and becoming a real live character, someone we have romanced in our minds of being in another time and place. Maybe we remember the hollowness of being married and not yet having our own child to take trick or treating on a magic cold night…loving protecting them from all kinds of harmful spooks.
    …and then, full circle, there we are, taking our own kids around joyfully, laughingly entranced by their friends we see on the street or who come by at all sorts of hours to hang out…and then run out for more…chili and warmth in the kitchen and at our front porch. And then our kids, like us, spend the evening out of the house, away from us, their friends and parents no longer coming by…but dutifully and faithfully..because others have done it for us and ours…we decorate and open our doors to welcome those whom we will only know for a magic moment…but between doorbells we notice that there is an eerily quiet sense about the house.
    But…maybe…just maybe…someday there might be GRANDKIDS! Maybe on another magic Halloween…we will get the opportunity to enjoy it all over again…

    Thanks for sharing this history and thanks for helping us tug at these memorable moments.

    Greg

    • Greg, your posts almost always give me goosebumps! So beautifully written and so descriptive that I can just see the streets you describe and the precious little children that flit in and out of our lives for precious, sweet little moments where we get to love them with candy and a warm greeting.

      Thank you so much for writing & making my day lovelier with your post.
      Happy Halloween, Greg!

  • Lauren

    Very interesting post! My favorite memory of Halloween was going to the fabric store with my mom and picking out the pattern and fabric for my costume that year. I was always amazed when we would do a “fit session” and see the transformation of fabric into an outfit. I haven’t thought about that for a long time, thanks so much for writing this!!

    • What a sweet memory Lauren! It’s so fun to look back on our childhoods at this time and see the fun and care our parents infused into our lives. I’m so glad you have that memory and that it came to you like a little surprise just in time for today. Happy Halloween!

  • I didn’t think it would! Your comment is still one of my favorites, “Halloween gives weird people an excuse to be weirder” – can’t argue with that! Thanks for reading & Happy Halloween ANYWAY!

  • Carrie, I love the way you celebrate Halloween! So fun & cute. I always think of you this time of year & that amazing tattoo you’ve got – so beautiful, meaningful and just flat out cool. I hope you have a fantastic day, Happiest of Halloweens to you!

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Interesting. Who would’ve thought. I’m like you. this time of season is my favorite. Partly because of Halloween but mainly because of the change in seasons. I love when the cold hits and the leaf blow in the air. I think that is my favorite part about Halloween. The crisp beautiful weather.

    • Me too, it’s just so wonderful to have the sunny days not be quite as consistent. It feels like we live in the tropics sometimes and I just love the change-up. Thanks for reading Joanna!

  • Jenn

    Great post, my old neighborhood growing up was in the same track as our elementary school so it was a very popular neighborhood to trick or treat in and the streets were packed. There were a few years not too long ago when people almost were too afraid to let their children trick or treat and the numbers seemed to dwindle every year. Hopefully tonight being great weather and hopefully a better sense of community over the last few years, we will get more trick or treaters at my moms house. It is always fun to pass out candy and see the costumes.

    • Jenn,
      How amazing to have such a filled neighborhood! Sadly, Halloween has always been a bit quieter on the streets I grew up in but I still love seeing the monster & costumed silhouettes make their way toward my house.

      I hope you had just TONS of kids this year!

  • Diana

    Thank you Molly for sharing the true meaning of Halloween!

    • Thank you for reading Diana! Hope you learned a little from it : )

  • Chuck

    Molly,

    Thanks for the education, it is always interesting to see how time and people will borrow, tweak and change things to become what we see today. The pagans and their culture are a big source of many of our rituals today. I just like scaring the @#&^ out of people. Cameron and I set up a scary haunted house this year and had some fun being mischievous spirits for a night. Boo.

    Chuck

    • NO Way!! How cool. I would love (I think) to visit a Haunted House, especially one run by you & Cameron! Maybe next year : )

  • Shayna Mallik

    Molly,
    Once again thank you for such a cool and interesting blog. You are a great writer! Like most people, I also never knew the history of Halloween. My favorite part of Halloween when I was little is picking out costumes for that year and getting tons of candy of course. Now I love to see the kids trick or treating and see what costumes they have chosen. Thank You for sharing.

    Shayna

    • Thank YOU for reading Shayna! It’s so fun to have context and understanding of what’s going on when it comes to holidays. I hope you saw some good costumes!

  • Tom

    Jack took the coal and thanked the devil for providing warmth.

  • Shasta Cola

    Very interesting, Molly! My favorite part of Halloween is being with family and dressing up, it is also one of those holidays when all of the neighbors come out and socialize, which is neat!

    • Yes, that is one of my favorite parts too, Shasta. We always have a bonfire out front with friends & family gathered around eating chili & pie. It’s great fun! Hope you had a great evening with your family!

  • Erin Fodor

    Well this is a little late, but thank you for sharing about Halloween. I always think of my great grandfather when I light the candle after carving our pumpkins. My family would all go pick our pumpkins then head home and carve together. I’ll never forget him leaning over and making sure my brother and I were okay with the knives and we didn’t need any help. If we did need help, he was always the first to jump into action.

    • What a sweet memory Erin! Holidays always elicit sentimental memories & emotions for me and I’m sure it’s the same for you as you look back on your memories with your dad & grandfather. Thank you for sharing, I hope you carved a pumpkin for him this year : )

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Molly,
    Thank you for the wonderful post on Halloween. This is my favorite time of the year, and our celebration is a highlight of the Holidays for me. I put on a big pot of chili, invite family and friends and we kick off the season sipping on ice cold harvest brews or hard apple ciders, soft for the kids 😉 This year we had special guests from out of town, and we laughed and reminisced well into the night. The bigs (children over 12yrs) took over the kitchen and entertained us with movie lines and impressions. At one point as the littles (children under 12;0) were coming to the door for candy my Mom invited in the cutest couple who were dressed in Starbucks aprons toting a baby girl in a Frappuccino costume complete with extra whip!! Cutest thing ever!! Friends, family, and total strangers share in the joy of our holidays. It’s something I look forward to every year!! Halloween is like the kickoff party for our family to jump right in to this amazing time of year.

    kari

    • Kari,
      I love your perspective & your festivities! It absolutely is the kick-off, the calm one before the storm of present buying, letter sending, & fun parties. The pleasantness of just being home with the ones we love, enjoying seasonal favorites & passing out candy is so charmingly wistful that I think I just will never love another holiday the way I do this one. Thank you so much for sharing your Halloween traditions, glad to have you as a kindred spirit!

  • It’s the best! I loved my Halloween costumes growing up it’s my favorite part of Halloween seeing the little ones in dressed up as their dreams & superheroes. Thanks for reading, Chris!

  • Mitch,
    Etymology and history are such fascinating studies. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and hopefully learned something new : )

  • That’s right! Bothered me too but I had to share because everyone should get the creeps at least once on Halloween right? Thanks for reading Michael!

  • amy

    Molly,
    Thank you for the history of Halloween. I never knew how it all came about. Makes things very interesting to see how they evolve. Thanks for the Jack story too.
    Amy

  • Patricia Kolstad

    My Sweet Molly . .
    It’s so fun to watch you as the season changes to Fall and you are so looking forward to your first PSL! I wished I enjoyed them as much as you! Thanks for the fun blog, and the weird story of Jack and the Devil. Never heard that before . . . hummmm, where have I been.
    Now, Halloween is all about my grandkids and their costumes. Especially Sofia and Ella. Sofia was an Indian Princess and Ella was Rapunzel (without the long blond locks) She has long dark brown locks! Madi and Jake always have a new version of some wacky theme going on. But just the look on their faces and the fun they will have is priceless. And I love seeing the little ones come to the door. Every year we have gone to Kari’s for Halloween. She fixes a great pot of Chili and we eat heartily and hand out candy. This year a mom, dad and baby came to the door. The mom and dad were dressed as Starbuck Barrista’s and their baby was clothed as a Frappucino, with whipped topping all around her neck. It was so cute I envied them in so everyone got a peek. They were so friendly and the baby was adorable. So, there you are . . . that’s what I love most about Halloween now.
    Love you!
    AP