Halloween always falls on the 31st of October. What is Halloween really about? How did it get started? Here’s a brief history—plus, some fun Halloween crafts and recipes!
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.
|2018||Wednesday, October 31|
|2019||Thursday, October 31|
|2020||Saturday, October 31|
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 to mark 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 this 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 Crafts and Activities
Get into the Halloween spirit with these seasonal crafts!
There are no tricks to making these old-fashioned Halloween treats. Yum!
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? Do you have a costume picked out for this year? Let us know in the comments!