Halloween; Where Did It All Begin?

hayley mcdonnell life lessons the retreat Oct 01, 2020

By Hayley McDonnell

When you think of Halloween do you think of pumpkins, trick or treat, scary creatures and all things ghoulish? I certainly do, but where does it all come from? We are influenced by our surroundings, the merchandise available, the first snaps of cold air and the darker nights, so what about the origins of Halloween itself?

The word Hallow is the same word for “holy”, and “een” comes from the word evening. The word Halloween is a shortened version of “All Hallows eve” or holy evening, and for Christians, it marks the day before All Saints Day. The saints who are recognised on the 1st November is where it all began.

Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic tribes when on 31st October, the tribes would celebrate the festival of Samhain which marked the end of harvest and the beginning of Winter. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead, including ghosts, goblins, and witches, returned to mingle with the living. To scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires which sounds familiar with the traditions of today.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centrepieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona who was the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also played apple bobbing and drank cider from the harvest apples, again similar traditions that are enjoyed today.

Every year on 2nd November, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day. The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds Christians that the church is not bound by space or time. The memories of others will remain in the lives of the next generation, and hopefully, the good deeds that they did will be having a positive effect on those remembering.

Many of the customs we now associate with Halloween have also come from ancient celebrations. You are probably familiar with the current tradition of going door to door collecting treats; this custom is also found in the Samhain festival where groups of farmers would go door-to-door around their village collecting food and materials for a communal feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised prosperity; those who did not received threats of bad luck. When an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States in the 1800s, the custom of trick-or-treating came with them similar to this tradition came with them.

Pumpkin carving and leaving it in the porch is a tradition started by the Irish, except initially it was a turnip. The hollowed-out turnip would have a light inside to scare off evil spirits, and again when the Irish came to America, they used the then-unknown vegetable pumpkin as a more extensive substitute for the smaller turnip. I remember distinctly as a young girl carving out a turnip – the promise of a Pumpkin was only found in photographs and realised for me much later as a “grown-up”.

Christian today don’t celebrate Halloween, but it is hard not to succumb in some ways to the secular influences of this festival that are seen everywhere and offer an exciting chance to get dressed up and go out into the community – who wouldn’t want to do that? Many Christians today offer an alternative to these secular traditions for the children and their families by holding a party at the church and using this as an opportunity to come together, have fun and to learn about their faith. Christians all over the world will be looking forward to All Saints Day, which is reserved for overt participation. Light parties, apple-bobbing, trick or treat and costumes are worn to give everyone a chance to get involved; what you do it is up to you.

The long-term benefits of dialogue are improved relations and cooperation in the community, often enabling further development through social and political action. This greater understanding of our thoughts, coupled with the discovery of different or similar points of view, enhance collaboration opportunities with all involved. Dialogue brings slow and lasting results, change from within the community itself and works towards finding purposeful solutions.


  • UK tradition dictates that if you have decorated your front door or porch with Halloween symbols, it means you are ready to take part in the custom of “trick or treat”. If you want your home to look the part to greet these visitors, either human or spooks and spirits, here are some ideas.

  • Fairy lights often reserved just for Christmas can come out of their box and draped around trees and shrubs.

  • Light the pathway with some paper lanterns containing battery powered tea-lights.

  • A scarecrow in a chair or under a tree or bush with a torch lighting his face will surely show visitors you are in the Halloween “spirit”.

  • A few white balloons with a drawn on a spooky face to represent ghostly figures simply stuck to a bamboo cane can suffice, add extra spookiness with a white sheet draped over.

  • Use cobweb effects over trees, branches, bushes, doorknobs – anywhere. Use homemade black poms poms with black pipe cleaners for legs and maybe some googly eyes, hang them from your cobweb effects—a fun task for all to do a few days or weeks earlier.

  • If you are gathering inside a foreboding entrance can be enhanced by a pitch-black hallway or at least lit with some carefully placed candles – remember safety first particularly if there are children. Battery-powered lights are the safest.

  • An Autumn/Samhain table can be achieved with a smattering of natural materials. On a nature walk with friends and family of any age gather the fruits of nature that have since dropped to the floor. Look for leaves in russet reds and golds, branches with golden leaves still hanging on for a centrepiece. Be guided by what is there to remind you of the fruits of the season. Tall ferns can be added alongside orange flowers like dried sunflowers from earlier on the year.

  • Maintaining the harvest focus as a contrast find some stones which can be decorated with place names or messages. You could even write a question on the stone to be discussed or a true or false fact about this time of year.

  • You may want to purchase some chestnuts and a dark coloured cloth on an outside wooden bench or table.

  • Adorn the table with old books collected from a second-hand book shop, or involve the little ones beforehand in creating suitable book covers for books you already have.

  • Don’t forget the carefully and safely placed candles to add to the atmosphere. Have fun is using what you have already, an Autumn or Samhain table should reflect the season and the gathering of resources either natural or what you already have

Your collaboration and discussion prompts are found here. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so reach out to me and share!


A chance to continue to enjoy learning about the surrounding world as the Western world focuses on Halloween by thinking is it hypocritical to still participate in Halloween activities where the origins are steeped in Christian belief if you are not a Christian?


To support and encourage understanding of the consequences of behaviour and action remember that Halloween activities for some can give them an excuse to disregard usual standards of conduct. Is it OK to lower your standards of behaviour for just one night? What would you do if you saw someone who was not behaving acceptably.?.


Halloween events like “Trick or Treat” involve being part of a local community. What could you willingly do, which has a positive impact on your local community?


Appreciate cultural influences by asking yourself, are Halloween events and activities in the UK becoming too Americanised? How much notice should we spend on other cultures and traditions?

Until next time enjoy Halloween and stay Safe.


Hayley McDonnell is a Personal Development/SMSC consultant and author intent on bridging the gap between countries, cultures, customs and ultimately people with “Global Collaboration” Her aim is to make our world feel smaller by connecting with our similarities and embracing our differences. She loves to travel and meet new people from different backgrounds, countries and cultures. You can find out more about Hayley here.

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