Why do we celebrate Halloween?

There’s a fascinating story behind the tricks and treats

Halloween is a time of celebration, mystery and superstition, but there’s much more to the holiday’s history than just candy and scary costumes.

In the mood for a scare? Watch the full episode of The Truth Behind Zombies here.

Where It All Began

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts began their new year on 1 November and believed that on the night before, the boundary between the living and dead worlds would blur.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III made 1 November a day to honour saints and martyrs, known All Saints Day. The evening prior was known as All Hallow’s Eve and later Halloween.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, an influx of new immigrants helped to popularise Halloween around the United States.

Trick Or Treating

Our modern day trick or treating has its origins in 16th century Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people would dress up and ask neighbours for food in exchange for a song or poem. Dressing up as a soul of the dead was an attempt to trick spirits by impersonating them.

In the 19th century, trick or treating came to America when residents began donning costumes and go from house to house requesting food or money.

Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin carving also has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, when communities would carve turnips to ward off spirits and fairies.

When Irish immigrants to America had trouble finding turnips to carve, they used the more readily available pumpkin.

Happy Halloween!

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services, personalise your advertising and remember your preferences. If you continue browsing, or click on the accept button on this banner, we understand that you accept the use of cookies on our website. For more information visit our Cookies Policy AcceptClose cookie policy overlay