Halloween – A Brief History


If you think that Halloween isn’t quite what it used to be, then you’re both right and wrong! Growing up in the UK, many of us spent Halloween going door to door for sweets, bobbing for apples and carving wonky faces into turnips and pumpkins.

Brits tend to view Halloween as an American tradition, with a strong commitment to spooky decorations and Trick-or-Treating.

However, the truth is that Halloween is actually a mish-mash of European traditions dating way back. Read on if you’ve always wondered about the history of Halloween.



Halloween’s origins date back around 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, the UK and northern France, and celebrated their new year on November 1st when they marked the end of summer and the harvest (life) and the beginning of the cold, dark winter (death). Celts believed that the boundary between the living and dead became blurred on the night before the new year. Celts celebrated Samhain on the 31st October, when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. Believing that the spirits caused trouble and damaged crops, people lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.


Enter the Romans

The Romans conquered the Celts in the first century and, over time, two festivals combined with the traditional Samhain celebration. Feralia, a day in October to commemorate the dead; with a festival honoring Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The apple symbolizes Pomona, which explains the tradition of bobbing for apples.


The Christians

The Christians introduced the feast of All Hallows in an attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time for honoring saints and martyrs. By the ninth century Christian influences were blending with the Celtic traditions. Incorporating some of the Samhain traditions, the All Saints Day celebration was also known as All-hallows. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve when the poor begged for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the souls of relatives.

Over time, All Hallows’ Eve became Halloween, incorporating costumes from Samhain, apple-bobbing from Pomona and trick or treating from All Hallows’ Eve.


Modern Halloween

The first English emigrants took the historical tradition of Halloween over to America on the Mayflower. The rigid Protestant beliefs limited the celebrations in New England. However, the Southern colonies incorporated European and American Indian customs to develop a distinctly American version of Halloween. Neighbors would share ghost stories, tell fortunes, dance and sing. Annual autumn festivities were common by the mid-nineteenth century, but the celebrations were boosted by the  influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

Horror stories and gothic works heavily influence the traditions and imagery of Halloween – ghosts, vampires, monsters, haunted houses and skeletons.

Modern Halloween is less about literal ghosts and ghouls and is now a secular, community-based event. The day is no longer a solemn pagan ritual but is a day of fun, costumes and treats for children and adults. Revelers are being inspired by smash hits like Frozen and the Marvel superhero universe for their costumes!

It is also an important event for retailers. In 2017 US Halloween spend was around $8.4 billion, with UK spend around £320 million.


P.S. If you’re celebrating this Halloween, we would love to see your illooms pictures. Either let us know in the comments below or head on over to our ‘Upload Your Photos‘ page where you can share photos of your Halloween party ideas with all of the illooms community.