From where does Halloween comes? Every year that is a question asked in autumn: the “season of the spirits” when the veil to the Spirit World is thinner, and we tell ghost stories.

Halloween is on October 31 against November 1-st. Like many modern holidays, Halloween has its roots in paganism, the Celts, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Native American tribes: a tribute to the dead and their souls, as the “barrier” between the world of the living and the dead is considered to be the thinnest. Halloween (Hallowe’en, Alhalloween, All Hallows ’Eve, All Saints’ Day) is also a time of homage to saints, martyrs, all who died in the “true faith” (after the Christianization of the holiday), relatives and friends.

Origin of Halloween

The modern look of the holiday is considered more American, despite the historical and cultural elements that are slowly being incorporated from Europe, religion, paganism and immigrants. The strongly entrenched elements through Catholicism in Western Europe were transferred and supplemented to colonial America.

Originally the feast of Lemuria (the Roman feast of the dead, on which the Romans performed rituals to exorcism and soothe the dead; they also poured milk on the graves or placed cakes of flour of the first classes of wheat for the season), was introduced on May 13, 609 BC. (the festival lasted three days: May 9, 11 and 13).

When the holiday was Christianized, the church left the Roman Lemuria and renamed it “All Saints Day”, emphasizing the memory of the deceased canonized saints in the Christian faith. Later, it was decided to be moved to November 1-st, so the church kept the Roman holiday, but also tried to melt the Celtic Samhain, which is on October 31-st. Thus, Samhain gradually renamed “The Night Before the Saints” in translation “Halloween” (Hallow – saint, All Hallows’ Eve -> Alhalloween -> Halloween), while All Saints’ Day remains. Catholics celebrate November 2-nd on All Souls Day, honoring the souls of loved ones who have died, and Eastern Orthodoxy moves it to Saturday (“Saturday of Souls”) or Assumption Day.

On Assumption Day, the dead are commemorated with boiled sweetened wheat, and in modern times even sweets and salt foods are added. Wheat is distributed for “God forgive the dead souls”, and a prayer for the consolation of souls is read. There are three types of Assumtion Day: Great Assumption, Archangel’s Assumption, Cherry Assumption. Archangel’s Assumption is the closest in date (for 2021 it is November 6; for 2020 it is November 7), to All Saints’ Day, which is November 1-st.

Pumpkin of Halloween

The pumpkin or “Pumpkin Lantern”, also called “Jack-o-Lantern”, is a grinning face carved into a pumpkin, which was originally carved in turnips in Irish Catholic beliefs. The face and the candle inside represent the story of the legendary Jack, who was banished from Hell. Thus, the pumpkin lantern becomes a symbol of the closed soul in Purgatory, which tries to escape, but cannot, as a warning, not become like Jack, who was so evil that even Hell did not want him.

The American tradition of digging faces into pumpkins preserves the ghostliness of the Jack’s legend, with the face resembling a skull smiling ominously in the face of death and doom.

Treats of Halloween

“Souling” (“beggars for the soul”), Mary Mapes Dodge (Life time: 1905)

The modern tradition of “Trick or Treat” is rooted in the Roman feast of the dead – Lemuria, where the Romans placed gifts of wheat cakes with the first harvest of the season. The Christianization of the holiday and the relocation of the date, bring these sweets as a tradition to calm the souls so that they do not go to Purgatory.

In the Middle Ages, sweets were called “soul cakes”, and the beggers for “soul cakes” were called “soulers” (“praying souls” / “praying for the soul”). Thus beggars, the poor, and children went round the houses, asking for a delicacy, and when they were given such a treat, they prayed for the souls of the dead.

For the first part of the phrase “Trick or treat”, the trick refers to “mischief”. The phrase is actually an ultimatum, if no treat is given, the beggars would do mischief or evil to the people who refuse them.

The “tricks” (pranks) have several causes, and they all develop over time with progressive danger. When Guy Fawkes is punished for his audacity, trying to blow up London’s House of Lords, he is convicted, hanged and according to legend: cut into pieces that are burned. Every year, the children of London, in order to mock his memory, created riots and started fires (aka, “Guy Fawkes Day”, November 5).

Costumes of Halloween


The ideal way for beggars to hide their identity. Over time, the beggars became more and more aggressive. In Britain, in rural areas of the country, it was customary for people to dress in masks and costumes and to play small plays or theatrical entertainments for little money or food. In the 17th century, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up London’s House of Lords, fueling riots by children and the poor, when the masquerade was a necessary cover for the perpetrators’ identities.

Nowadays, the variety of masks is greatly enhanced by movies and the horror film “Halloween” (1978) by John Carpenter, which inspires future generations to enrich the range and ingenuity of designs.


From the 14th to the 17th century, a terrible deed was committed in Western Europe: The Witch Hunt. Anyone who practiced herbalism and pagan rituals was stigmatized as a witch, a subject of the Devil (communicants or servants of the Devil), tortured, persecuted and burned at the stake. Between 200,000 and 500,000 witches were killed, 85% of them women (here the numbers vary because there are no exact statistics; according to other data from 1450 to 1750, 40,000 – 50,000 executions were carried out).

Thus the brooms with which they cleaned the house became a symbol of the ominous transport of evil witches; the cauldrons in which they cooked were distorted as a notion of magic, potions, and cooking for children; domestic cats became companions of evil and witchcraft. Puritanism in America carried the notion of evil in the form of witches and magic (Puritanism is a Christian doctrine originated in England, transferred to North America; a branch and deepening of the Reformation in Western Europe: separating Anglicanism from Catholicism and the absolute power of the church).


Since Halloween is the feast of death, how much appropriate of a symbol than the skeleton as a hint of the Reaper, mortality, death, transience and fear, awe, the fright of the gloomy night.


Behind this symbolism are the grim events of the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865). Over 4 years, more than half a million soldiers died, some in the war, others in complete obscurity. The battlefield is their last place and their grave. The first Halloween ghost stories in America are of these same soldiers returning home. At this time, Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their beliefs of the “bogies” (boogeyman, supposedly related to bugbear; goblins): evil spirits who frighten and torture children, hiding under beds and closets, knocking on the windows of their rooms. The ghost’s costume was extremely simple: a sheet with two holes for the eyes, and the symbolism came from the veil of the dead (shroud).

Artistic representation of the pumpkin, the cat and the bat; artist: JillWellington (pixabay)

Children asking “Trick or Treat”

Rather, it is considered an American tradition, despite the medieval roots described above. In fact, in the 1920s, the mischief of children intensified as a result of several factors: the Great Depression (1929, the collapse of stocks, commodities, the economy), emigrants, and the emerging new holiday with old customs.

In Chicago and Philadelphia, 1920, children broke pumpkins, put soaps in front of cars to roll them over; they waved steps in front of houses so people coming out of their homes to fall down, lit fires, broke windows, opened gates to rural animals to wreak havoc. In other cities, what was happening was called “Hell’s Night.” It got worse progressively, the little mischief became bigger and more destructive, gaining momentum of a kind of civil disobedience intensified by the Great Depression.

Deciding to calm the chaos, several companies set out to soften the holiday by making it a festival and entertainment rather than riots and riots. A series of books entitled “Dennison’s Bogie Book for Halloween” (1920), masks and costumes were published and set to be in stores.

The medieval tradition of giving treats to children and the poor took on a new American look to appease the mischief and destruction of the 1920s and 1930s. Entering pop culture, Halloween has become the festival and entertainment we know today: watching scary movies, entertainment for children and adults, sweets and scary stories.

It can be said that Halloween is a dance between a traditional approach to old beliefs mixed with a modern approach to entertainment through commercialism and emphasizing the more grim history in honor of Gothic horror works of art that became popular in the 19th century.