What is Halloween?

Zoie Bertagnolli

Do you ever stop and ask yourself why you’re dressed up as someone or something you’re not while walking around begging for candy on a cool October evening? Most people don’t question why we do what we do on October 31st every year that we call Halloween. Believe it or not there is a little history behind this.

Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. Makes sense right? Halloween literally means “hallowed evening,” and was known to early European celebrators as All Hollows’ Eve (October 31) and All Saints’ Day (November 1) both paid homage to saints (“hallows”=saints). The name was eventually shortened to “Halloween.”

Halloween is celebrated on October 31, the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, considered the earliest known root of Halloween, occured on this day. There was a belief October 31st was a day when the spirits of the dead would cross over into the other world. Halloween provides a safe way to play with the concepts of death. People dress up as the living dead, and fake gravestones decorated on front lawns, these activities wouldn’t be tolerated any other time of the year.

The tradition of dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating didn’t start in the United States until World War 2, but American kids were known to go out on Thanksgiving and ask for food- a practice known as Thanksgiving begging. By the late 1800s, the tradition of playing tricks on on Halloween was well established. In the United States and Canada, the pranks included tipping over old outhouses, opening farmer’ gates and egging houses. By the 1920s and ‘30s, the celebrations more resembled a fake block party, and the acts of vandalism got more serious. Some people believe that because pranking was starting to get dangerous and out of hand, parents and town leaders began to encourage dressing up and trick-or-treating as a safe alternative to doing pranks.

No matter where you’re from you’ve probably dressed up and went out begging for candy on Halloween. Most people don’t know why we do what we do on Halloween. Some people love fall and love a cool halloween night. Others love the scary movies and haunted houses. Halloween isn’t for everyone, but most people enjoy the cool spooky night.