The History of the Spooks: Halloween

Yasmeen Namazie October 26, 2013 3
The History of the Spooks: Halloween

The origins of Halloween date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which recognized the end of summer and the commencement of winter. But as the world has progressed and developed, have our “trick-or-treaters” forgotten the original traditions and beliefs of All Hallow’s Eve?

The Celts believed that the worlds of the living and dead would clash on Halloween, also known as the Samhain festival.  They thought ghosts entombed in the depths of  Earth would return and wreak havoc on the crops, which explained the dying agricultural industry. The Celts would wear costumes— typically animal heads and skins— and make sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

In 1000 AD, nearly six centuries following the birth of this Celtic tradition, Christianity spread to Celtic lands. Christians modified the Samhain festival to supplement their beliefs. Pope Boniface IV changed the name to “All Souls Day” and strove to commemorate the dead. Christians celebrated in similar ways: people  dressing as saints, angels, and devils.

The American tradition of “trick-or-treating” derives from these parades. Impoverished citizens would beg for food and families would give them “soul cakes.” Thus commenced the ancient practice of “going-a-souling.” Children were later involved in the distribution of goods. All Souls Day was also known as All-Hallows, and the night before it (the traditional night of Samhain), was known as All-Hallows Eve. Eventually, people recognized this night of festival as Halloween.

Halloween has evolved into a secular event characterized by child-friendly activities like trick-or-treating. But the nature of Halloween isn’t widely accepted as having no religious affiliation.

Inglewood Elementary— a suburban school in Philadelphia— resolved to “cancel a Halloween parade and other Halloween celebrations, citing a ban on promoting religious beliefs.” In lieu of Halloween festivities, the school hosted a “Fall Festival” on Oct. 18.

“Some holidays observed in the community that are considered by many to be secular (ex. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day) are viewed by others as having religious overtones,” Principal Orlando Taylor says. “The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature.”

At Archer, students seem to have a different opinion regarding the nature of the holiday. “Halloween is fun because it makes your world completely different than what it is normally. It makes the normal, abnormal,” one Archer student says.

Archer's Halloween carnival in 2010.  Source: The Archer School for Girls

Archer’s Halloween carnival in 2010.
Source: The Archer School for Girls

On Oct. 31, Archer will be hosting its annual Halloween carnival. Students dress in costumes, seniors exhibit a Haunted House, and everyone enjoys a 12:30 dismissal. While Archer’s Halloween traditions differ from that of the Samhain festival, students express their appreciation for the event. “Its always fun to pie teachers in the face,” student Shishi Shomloo ’15 says. “The amount of candy makes me want to cry with happiness.”

Although the traditions and importance surrounding Halloween vary among various societies that observe it, the holiday will universally be a light-hearted and candy-filled evening of entertainment.


Featured Image: An ominously lit pumpkin. Photographer: Yasmeen Namazie


  1. Emily Bannon November 7, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply


  2. Sage Orvis October 29, 2013 at 3:49 am - Reply

    Very interesting to see where one of my favorite holidays came from. An interesting followup would be the evolution from animal skins to skimpy “animal” costumes.

  3. Brian Wogensen October 29, 2013 at 3:14 am - Reply

    I feel like some US history class should reenact the Celtic sacrifice to deities on Thursday.
    Nice story, Yasmeen!

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