Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

Halloween’s roots: Holiday’s history traced back to Celtics, Christians

On Halloween, little kids go trick-or-treating, many high school kids egg houses and play pranks on neighbors, and college kids tend to go out drinking.

Americans today associate candy, late-night pranks and carved pumpkins with Oct. 31, but the spooky holiday has ancient roots that trace back to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The origins of Halloween date back to the pagan Celtic Festival of Samhain, which traditionally marked the beginning of winter, the time of year associated with death.

On the night of Oct. 31, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. Ancient Celts, who lived in present-day Ireland, Scotland, Britain and northern France, lit large bonfires where people burned their crops and sacrificed animals to ward off evil spirits.

“We are remembering the dead; there are traditions attached to that evening, but it’s not a religious festival. It’s a folkloric kind of festival,” religion professor Dewey Wallace Jr. said.

As Christianity began to take hold in Ireland in the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV moved All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, to Nov. 1 to make over Halloween with a Christian interpretation, according to

The word “Halloween” comes from the Catholic Church’s term “All Hallows Eve,” which fell on the night before All Saint’s Day, the Catholic holiday set aside to honor the religion’s saints and martyrs.

Celts came to the sacred bonfires dressed in costumes made of animal heads and skins. After they finished celebrating, the Celtic people re-lit their hearth fires using the sacred bonfire. It was believed that the fire would protect the Celts against the brutal winter months.

Eventually, European settlers in North America brought their Halloween traditions to the New World. English settlers are responsible for the idea of trick-or-treating, which is a practice still popular today in America and the United Kingdom.

“Children threatened to play a prank on a person if they did not receive candy,” said Latetitia Combrinck, member of the United Church.

Combrinck said she was in Germany during All Saints’ Day recently and was impressed with the solemn respect of the religious holiday.

“People don’t realize the meaning of Halloween. We are honoring the deceased who have gone on,” she said, adding that in Germany the first of November is noticeably observed, and people decorate graves with candles and flowers.

Halloween is also a holiday that is also associated with the occult. It is believed by some that the night of Halloween is a time of year when the spiritual world can make contact with the living and magic is at its strongest.

Some churches condemn Halloween as a satanic holiday and some children are not allowed to go trick-or-treating.

Combrinck said, “I read Halloween as a fun holiday. It’s an innocent, colorful occasion for children to dress up and get candy.”

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet