The history behind Halloween

By: Kelly Babcock

The history behind Halloween

Tags: Halloween, Trick or Treat, Owen Sound, Real Estate, Homes


Here's a conundrum. Celts or Christians? Who started Halloween? There's good hard evidence on both sides of the story. And perhaps both are right.

There is evidence that there was a celebration of the dead in the Christian church that took place around that time of the year. And of course Samhain (pronounced Sah-win) occurs on the same day as Halloween.

And without having accurate histories written in modern language, that is, words that don't need to be interpreted, it's a difficult call for someone who is in both camps (or indeed, in neither) to make.

But what if ...

What if it's far simpler, and yet far more complicated than it seems? What if the changing season, the end of harvest and the commencement of returning to our homes and beginning to live off of the produce of another ended growing season causes all of us to be retrospective, introspective, pondering.

As someone who celebrates neither Christianity nor Paganism, yet someone who has a claim to both, I often find myself remembering those gone before me at this time of year.

I have little wonder about people who choose to celebrate things celebrating the saints and martyrs, or the dead and departed of our communities.

And what if ...

What if one group were celebrating more festively than the other? Does that mean that if the other expands their celebrations they're intention is to detract from the one?

What if the imitation is an honest form of compliment? What if it is, as is often said, the purest form of flattery?

Diversity rules

Today in my community I enjoy the company of Pagans and Christians and many followers of other religions, faiths and practices. And many people who are neither Christian, nor Pagan, participate in Halloween.

And I cannot think of one good reason why they shouldn't.


Halloween has seen many changes over the decades and centuries. In its simplest of forms in our time, it sees children, and some adults, getting dressed up and participating in celebrations.

The common child's activity is to go out trick-or-treating. The trick to this is that it has become so standardized that there is mostly only treating. Though trick is in the name, from a young age, and often accompanied by adults, children go door to door, present themselves at their best, and receive a reward usually in the form of candy.

Adults, on the other hand, tend to go in for parties and socialized entertainment, though they still might dress up.

All dressed up

Wearing costumes seems to have come from practices dating back centuries in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle Of Man, and Wales where “mumming” dates back to the 1500's and possibly before that.

Often dressed in what looked like the swaddling of mummies (though it is unlikely that the words “mumming” or “mummers” came from that) people would call upon their neighbours and recite verses in exchange for being fed.

And here's another trick

In some parts, it was thought that wandering spirits would be out, but could be kept from causing mischief if they were imitated, so people went out and caused mischief on their own.

Additionally, some groups would recite verses at the entrance to a household in exchange for being welcomed and fed. If they were, then the household was expected to fair well through the winter and the next year, but it they were not welcomed, then misfortune was likely to befall the household.

By the 19th century, going about playing pranks had become commonplace and a part of Halloween practice.

And now?

These days people play pranks still. But more of our Halloween is spent “treating” than “tricking.” And that's just as well.

And costumes have come a long way. Children rarely wrap up in bandages and gauze, and are more likely to present themselves at your door dressed as their favourite Disney princess or movie superhero.

Often people go all out to decorate their homes for Halloween, projected light shows and creepy cobwebs and all manner of sinister features adorn yard and porch.

And not to be outdone

The act of costuming has become an art form that can be the soul of simplicity or the epitome of elaboration. Costume shops do great business this time of year, as do craft stores, sewing supply retailers and thrift stores, selling anything and everything that might make an already over the top costume take home the “best dressed” award or the biggest bag of candy.

And as for me?

Well, I don't go out much on Halloween. But I do enjoy seeing the children that come to my door, proudly showing off the costumes that, in their eyes make them indistinguishable from their heroes and heroines.

But my two biggest treats from this time of year are the smiles on their faces, and the fact that long before Halloween evening arrived, I ate half the candy we bought to shell out.