History of Halloween: meaning, origins and why it is celebrated

Halloween may be one of the most famous holidays of the year right now. Widespread throughout the world, there are many legends surrounding this celebration. But only one is the real one. Are you about to know its true origin?

Halloween pumpkin

The true Celtic origin of Halloween or Halloween

Although it has always been associated with the United States, the truth is that its origin took place in Europe, specifically in the Celtic peoples of Ireland, who marked October 31 as Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’), whose meaning is “summer end”. That day coincided with the Autumn solstice and marked the end of the harvest season.

Halloween origin

The Wiccan religion, as well as other world religions, established this holiday as a representation of the death and rebirth of their god . They believed that during that night the door between the world of the spirits and the living was left open. Due to this, the ghosts of the deceased roamed freely and the magical power of the druids grew thanks to the connection with the astral world.

Halloween's history


The custom was to use turnips filled with incandescent coal as lanterns, in order to guide deceased relatives and,  on the other hand, use them as a weapon to scare evil spirits. The children went house to house collecting presents to offer them to the gods. These presents were delivered to the druids, who performed a sacred ritual in which human and animal sacrifices were made at the same time.

The arrival of Halloween in the United States and the legend of Jack O’Lantern

Although many now believe that the United States has been a country that has celebrated Halloween forever, the reality is quite different.

The arrival of the Halloween party in the United States


It was not until the mid-18th century, with the arrival of Irish emigrants, that the culture of the Samhain festival began to arrive . Maintaining this tradition, Europeans continued to celebrate this night in the USA, only they substituted turnips for the classic pumpkins that are known today. The reason? The difficulty of finding turnips in the USA and the fact that the pumpkins were bigger and easier to hollow out . It is not known if it was a single person who started doing it or it was a joint decision of an Irish people.

Trick or Treating

At first, this country, which was under the yoke of New England, rebuked this holiday , trying to maintain the Lutheran tradition. However, at the end of the 19th century, more immigrants of Celtic origin arrived in the United States.

With the arrival of new Irish peoples, the classic festival is mixed with some Indian beliefs. This is how the legend of Irish Jack was born . The gourd used to light the path of the dead was baptized as ” Jack’s lamp ” (Jack, the one who lives in the lamp), or as it is currently known: Jack O’Lantern .

What is the legend of Jack O’Lantern?


Jack’s legend begins on a distant Halloween . Jack, who was reputed to be a drunk, met the Devil of the Tavern one night . Despite being drunk, he was able to trick the devil into making a deal with him: he would give up his soul in exchange for one last drink.

jack o lantern halloween

To please his customer, the devil was transformed into a coin that Jack had to use to pay the waiter. However, Jack, also known for his stinginess, took the coin and put it in his purse . Since it had a cross engraved on it, the devil could not escape or return to its original form.

The devil had no choice but to make a new deal with Jack : he would release him when he promised not to ask for his soul in 10 years. In the end, being from hell he had no choice but to accept.

10 years later, Jack met the devil in the field . As the devil was about to take his soul, the drunken youth thought quickly and said, ” I’ll go willingly, but before I do, would you please bring me the apple that’s on that tree ?”

Believing that he had nothing to lose, and that he could wait a little longer to take his soul, the devil jumped to the top of the tree . However, before he could know it, Jack carved a cross into the trunk. At this, he was trapped and Jack told him that he would not let him escape until he promised that he would never take his soul from him. The devil had no choice but to accept the new conditions. And, once free, he never bothered Jack again.

Story of Jack and the origin of the Halloween pumpkin


A few years later Jack died. But he could not enter heaven  because throughout his life he had been a rascal, drunk and swindler. So he tried to enter hell. However, the devil expelled him from there since, as he had promised, he could not take his soul.

jack o'lantern

Where shall I go now ?” was Jack’s question. The only answer he got from the devil was ” Go back the way you came .” The road was dark and there was a terrible wind that did not let him see. To help him out of hell, the devil threw a burning coal at him. This Jack put it in the gourd he carried with him, so it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. In older Celtic versions, instead of the pumpkin he uses a turnip.

Other versions of this horror legend


Over the years the legend has acquired various versions . Although the aforementioned is the correct one, depending on the territory, there is a different version:

  • In some versions, it is included that there is a wise and good man (sometimes referred to as God) who helps Jack win over the devil.
  • In other versions, the agreement between Jack and the Devil is changed. The deal with the devil was temporary, but he, as a vengeful being, denies Jack entry to hell after his death.
  • Since he was such a greedy man, Jack is rejected in Heaven, as well as Hell. In these versions the presence of the devil is not mentioned.
  • While in the folktale it is God who gives Jack the coal, and even in some the pumpkin, in others it is God who gives him the turnip.
  • An African-American legend maintains that Jack, known as the Great Sixteen, manages to kill the devil, being rejected in hell for this act.

What does the word ‘Halloween’ mean and what is its origin?

Where exactly does the term Halloween come from? Well, it is a shortened form, in the Scottish language, of the English expression ‘Allhallow-even’ , used for the first time in the 16th century. It is first attested in 1745 under the form “Hallow-e’en”, used as the Old English name for All Hallows’ Eve. That is, the eve of the Christian holiday of November 1.

halloween name

Although the term ‘Hallow’ is currently in disuse in English , it was a way of referring to saints, coming from the Anglo-Saxon “heliga” or “helga”, which meant holy, sanctify or consecrate. The “even” or “eve”, also rarely used, is how it was designated at the end of the day, that is, the eve of the following day.

Not long ago another origin was claimed: the ‘mesnie’ (or group). This word is used to refer to the army that accompanies the procession of the dead. According to a testimony of Guillermo de Auvergne, in the 13th century the procession of the deceased was dominated “vulgari gallicano Hellequin et vulgari hispánico exercitus antiguus” (Hellequini and the ancient Hispanic army). The interpretation of the etymology “Hallows’ Eve” seems to be a scholarly interpretation.

Customs and traditions of the United States on Halloween

Being one of the most important dates in the American and Canadian calendar, this party has also reached some Ibero-American countries . Although many towns celebrate it in the same way as in the United States, other territories have their own beliefs and actions based on the holiday.

halloween usa

But, what has made this party reach countries beyond the new world? Among other things, it is due to the great commercial deployment, added to the publicity engendered by American cinema .

Typical Halloween recipes: caramel apples and other sweets


Certainly, during the night of the dead there was an important tradition with food in Celtic culture. But, over the years, more and more delicacies related to this festivity have been introduced.

halloween candy apples

One of the most popular are caramel apples and candy apples . In the past, instead of the sweets that are currently known, the common gift to children who went trick-or-treating door to door. However, due to rumors that some people inserted sharp objects, such as nails and razor blades, into apples, this tradition disappeared. The truth is that there is little evidence that this happened, nor that it led to serious injuries. In fact, the level of hysteria grew so high that some hospitals began offering free X-ray tests for children on Halloween to find evidence of tampering.

trick or treat halloween

In Ireland, the tradition of buying a fruitcake, in which a simple ring, coin and other charms are placed before being baked, is maintained . According to legend, those who get the ring will find the love of their lives the following year . It is a tradition similar to the one with the Roscón de Reyes in some European countries during Christmas.

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Currently, thanks to the great skill of the hotel masters, they have managed to create authentic pieces of art to prepare Halloween menus, with all kinds of dishes that represent this party in a terrifying and spectacular way.

The tradition of trick or treating and its origin in the United States


Trick-or-treating, also known as trick-or-treating, trick-or-treating, trick-or-trade, or trick-or-treating, is the favorite Halloween activity for kids. According to this activity, children go around the houses in the neighborhood dressed up, asking for candy, knocking on doors and saying “trick or treat”. The deal is the delivery of a treat, but if they don’t comply, then the trick would consist of a prank on the owners of the house (usually throwing rotten eggs on the house or covering it with toilet paper).

bread of palms halloween

The origin of this practice is not in the United States, but in Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages, a time when the “soul cake” was requested . However, this tradition could also have its origin in Portugal, where it was common to ask for the “päo-por-deus” (also known as Santoro or bolinhos), and which is mentioned for the first time in the 15th century. In some regions of the country it was common for children to carry a pumpkin with a carved face, as well as a candle inside to light it.

Being currently the tradition and a very common element in Halloween, the truth is that it took time to be introduced with the holiday in the USA. The first records of it took place in 1920, but it was not very popular. Things changed in 1950, when UNICEF launched its “Trick-or-Treat” campaign.

Pumpkins decorated on Halloween


Due to the popular legend of Jack, the pumpkin has become a fundamental element of Halloween night. In fact, it is placed at the entrance of the houses , as an ornament, without knowing that it is really a tool to guide the deceased.

halloween pumpkins

The legend of drunken Jack was combined with an ancient tradition of placing candles in the windows, to guide relatives and scare away the deceased.

The reason for Halloween costumes and makeup


Over the years, more and more elements have been included for Halloween night. At first, the children hardly went in disguise, and simply went from one place to another asking for sweets from house to house.

However, with the advent of horror movies, which introduced popular characters such as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, witches or mummies, these became popular costumes.

Halloween costumes

Time has given way to a larger repertoire of costumes for Halloween night, expanding the number of beings from hell to fictional characters such as Freddy Krueger, zombies, Jason or Meyers.

On the other hand, including some decorative elements such as tombs in the garden, skeletons, bats or spiders was something that began to be done between the 50s and 60s , becoming a business for many clotheslines who saw a business opportunity. Currently there are even contests to see who achieves the best decoration.

This has also changed the trick-or-treating tradition a bit, as many use their houses to give them a “haunted” look to scare trick-or-treating children.

Horror urban legends about Halloween night

Over the years, some popular legends have been included for Halloween night. Curiously, some of them don’t really have anything to do with the holiday. Still, they’re tonight classics.

the haunted houses


It is quite curious how, when night falls on October 31, all cities or towns have an abandoned house that is considered haunted.

haunted House

Generally, it is common for many children to do a test of courage , generally agreed between the group of friends, to enter the house on the night of the dead and spend the night there. Or get in and out without anything happening to it.

Around the houses there is always a lot of mystery and unsubstantiated legends, such as that there was a series of murders, that there are ghosts or the dead that live inside the house.

Sleepy Hollow: Legend of the Headless Horseman


In popular culture, the Sleepy Hollow Headless Horseman may be one of the best known. In addition, it is one of the most popular horror stories for children during Halloween night.

sleepy hollow

The legend of this character is born from a short novel written by Washington Irving , titled The Legend of Sleepy Hollow . According to this story, a soldier was wounded on the battlefield and lost his head (burst off by a cannon shot) and after being buried in a Catholic cemetery, he returns every night of the dead to retrieve his head from him. In the story, with the arrival of Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow, it is narrated how he manages to find the head of the creature and deliver it to him so that he can rest in peace.

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Interestingly, there are similar legends in Irish and Germanic mythology. Both tell of a headless horseman who rises once a year to search for her, cutting off the heads of those who get in his way.

Over time the story has undergone several changes. One of the most popular is that the horseman, after losing his head, returned the first year to find a pumpkin with a lit candle. By putting it on his head he could see perfectly, so he used it as a substitute object until he found his real head. In other versions, the creature carries the gourd in his hand as he rides on his horse.

The Legend of Bloody Mary


It is one of the most famous legends in the USA, having several versions and names. But the most widespread is the one that we are going to narrate below.

At the turn of the century a girl named Mary fell ill and died , a common occurrence at the time among people suffering from trance. This disease led the patient to a state of apparent death, so they did not actually die. Therefore, she buried them with a rope tied to a bell, placed on the outside of the coffin.

legend of bloody mary

Following the procedure, Mary was buried in the garden of the house . But when she woke up, she pulled the rope, but no one came to her call. The next morning, her family went to watch her and discovered the bell on the ground . When they dug her up, they realized that she had no nails, as they had been broken while struggling to get out of the coffin.

According to popular legend, enraged with her family, Mary put a curse on her to get revenge. They say that if you stand in a mirror and say her name three times, a girl will appear behind your back and kill you, or disfigure you, while in the background you hear the sound of a bell.

Summoning this character has become a tradition, especially among teenagers, for Halloween night.

October 31: Halloween in Spain or All Saints Day

Is Halloween night an American tradition that has invaded Spain or is it an Iberian tradition that invaded the old world? For many people, especially fervent Catholics, the first option is the most used.

However, due to the large number of Celtic peoples that existed in Spain, it can be affirmed that it was one of the founding countries of the current tradition . In fact, there are records that in the past, going door to door asking for food and then offering it to the gods, has been carried out in Spain for centuries until the arrival of the Catholic religion that replaced that pagan festival with All Day. the Saints.

halloween spain

The party did not begin to be introduced in Spain until the end of the Franco regime , with which there was an opening of borders that allowed the arrival of an American cinema that showed this party as something common in the country.

Currently, during the night of October 31, it is normal for children, as well as adults, to dress up as their favorite underworld creatures, and go to parties or do trick-or-treating (this is especially common in some towns or in urbanizations).

Halloween Movies: Michael Myers and Other Classic Sagas

The Halloween party has not only remained a party thanks to the passage of tradition but also thanks to popular culture.

Among other examples we have the horror saga of Halloween , in which it is narrated as the serial killer Michael Meyers is dedicated to killing “nannies” on Halloween night. This has given way to a long saga of its own films, reaching a total of 7 official installments and two remakes.

In cartoon series, as well as live action, it is common for there to always be an episode dedicated to Halloween night (just as there is for Christmas). In these episodes, the characters generally have to face some creature from popular folklore, usually the headless horseman.

trick or treat halloween

Halloween night is a date that has been marked as the perfect day to watch horror movies, as well as tests of value. Going to cemeteries in the middle of the night, entering old houses and spending the night there, making an ouija to try to contact the dead… young people are the ones who have been introducing these “traditions” that continue to be carried out even today.

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