A history of Halloween

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A History of Halloween

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and of the harvest, and marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The cold winter was a time of year that was often associated with human death at this time.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. They celebrated Samhain on the night of October 31, and they believed that the ghosts of the dead could return to earth on this night. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of these spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. These predictions were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter. At a time when people relied heavily on their crops as a source of food, the Celts would have done anything which they thought would help them through the hard winter.

To celebrate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes which would disguise them from the spirits. Typically these costumes consisted of animal heads and skins.

Halloween is an old tradition here in Ireland and also in Scotland. In these countries, people dressed up and carried lanterns made of turnips. When people moved from Ireland and Scotland to the United States and other places around the world, they started using pumpkins instead of turnips. This is where pumpkin lanterns were first created. Today it is very easy to buy pumpkins in your local supermarket, and many homes carve these into scary faced lanterns.
There was also a tradition of giving food to the spirits. As the years went by this tradition changed to a situation where people gave food to poor people. This is where our modern day ‘trick-or-treating’ comes from.

But where does the name come from? ‘Halloween’ means All Hallows Eve, or the night before 'All Hallows'. With the coming of Christianity to Ireland in the 400s, the church gave religious meaning and significance to the holiday which the ancient Celts had celebrated. All Hallows is also known as ‘All Saints Day’. This is celebrated on the 1st of November, and on this day Catholics remember all of the saints throughout Christian history. ‘All Souls Day’ follows all saints day and is celebrated on the 2nd of November, on this day we remember all those, especially members of our family or friends who have passed away.


  1. How old is the festival of Halloween?

  1. Where were the Celts from?

  1. Why did they celebrate Halloween?

  1. How did they ‘dress - up’?

  1. Why did they dress up?

  1. Make a list of the ways we celebrate Halloween which:

a) haven’t changed all that much since the time of the Celts

b) are modern or different to the way the Celts celebrated it
7) Imagine you are a 9 year old boy / girl living in Celtic Ireland. Describe what it is like during this time of year, and how you are going to celebrate Halloween.
8) When Christianity came to Ireland in the 400s, what did Catholic people celebrate on the 1st of November?

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