Halloween always falls on the 31st of October. What is Halloween really about? How did it get started? Here’s a brief history—it may surprise you!
When is Halloween?
Halloween, traditionally called All Hallows’ Eve, is celebrated on the evening before the Christian holy day of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints Day (November 1). Therefore, Halloween is always celebrated on October 31.
|Year||Day of Halloween|
|2019||Thursday, October 31|
|2020||Saturday, October 31|
|2021||Sunday, October 31|
|2022||Monday, October 31|
In England, saints or holy people are called “hallowed”, hence the name “All Hallows’ Day”. The evening, or “e’en” before the feast became popularly known as “All Hallows’ Eve” or even shorter, “Hallowe’en”.
A Brief History of Halloween
The origin of Halloween can be traced to the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which rhymes with cow-in), meaning Summer’s End. This festival celebrated the end of harvesttime and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year. It was a seasonal marker as the ancient Celts bid good-bye to warmth and light as day length shortened.
The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain. This had positive benefits, as it was an ideal time to consider the dead, communicate with the deceased, and also to divine the future. However, the Celts also believed that some spirits (ghosts) could pass through the wall and damage their crops. To mark the event, people would build huge bonfires to burn crops.
In later years, the Irish used hollowed-out, candlelit turnips carved with a demon’s face to frighten away spirits. When Irish immigrants in the 1840s found few turnips in the United States, they used the more plentiful pumpkins instead. See more about the origins of popular Halloween traditions—from witches on broomsticks to bobbing apples.
Following the Roman Empire’s rule over Celt-occupied lands in the 1st century A.D., the Romans incorporated many of the Celtic traditions, including Samhain, with their own. Eight hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church further modified Samhain, designating November 1 as All Saints’ Day, in honor of all Catholic saints. This day was formerly known as Allhallowmas, hallow meaning to sanctify, or make holy.
All Saints’ Day is known in England as All Hallows’ Day. The evening before, October 31, is known as All Hallows’ Eve, the origin of the American word Halloween!
If All Saints brings out winter,
St. Martin brings out Indian summer.
Halloween Customs and Crafts
Many of the practices of Halloween are innocent fun and some deal with reminders of death and concepts of good and evil.
This was also known as “Nutcrack Night” in England, where the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy cider and nuts and apples.
Get into the Halloween spirit with these seasonal crafts!
- Pumpkin Carving Tips and Tricks (Video)
- Advice from an Expert: Pumpkin Carving
- Halloween Makeup From the Pantry
- Spooky Apple Head
- Luminaria (Paper Lantern)
- Pumpkin Seed Necklace
- Traditional Corn Husk Doll
Many recipes and traditions have been traditional for “All Hallows’ Eve” (now known as Halloween), such as pancakes and colcannon (combination of cabbage and boiled potatoes).
Of course, a big part of Halloween is the “treats” (far preferred to the “tricks”). Here are some classic favorites before the days of packaged candy:
- Candy Apples
- Pumpkin Spice Mix
- Peanut Butter Balls
- Oven Caramel Corn
- Peanut Brittle
- Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Find our 10 best Halloween recipes here!
Wake up your walking dead with these Halloween poems! Perfect for a card.
From “Spirits of the Dead”
By Edgar Allan Poe
“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.”
From “All Soul’s Night, 1917”
by Hortense King Flexner
“You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath—
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.”
From “Theme in Yellow”
By Carl Sandburg
“I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know I am fooling.”
By Joel Benton
“Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite
All are on their rounds to-night,—
In the wan moon’s silver ray
Thrives their helter-skelter play.
Don’t we all, of long ago
By the ruddy fireplace glow,
In the kitchen and the hall,
Those queer, coof-like pranks recall?
Every shadows were they then—
But to-night they come again;
Were we once more but sixteen
Precious would be Hallowe’en.”
Happy Halloween, Almanac fans!
What’s your favorite Halloween tradition? Let us know in the comments!