Halloween is a time when many folks like to dress up, play pranks and eat candy, but that’s not exactly how the holiday got its start.
The spooky holiday can be traced back to an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which took place in England and Ireland roughly 2,000 years ago. According to online resources from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Samhain was considered a new year celebration and was observed on Nov. 1. Festival participants reportedly lit bonfires and wore masks and costumes to ward off malevolent spirits.
By the 1st century A.D., the Roman Empire conquered the Celts and brought two of their festivals to the forefront, including Feralia, which commemorated the dead, and Pomona, which honored the goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards.
Roughly six centuries later, those festivals were replaced by Christian traditions in light of the religious shift in the western world.
For example, the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day started by Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century A.D. was moved from May 13 to Nov. 1 as a way to supersede the pagan fall festivals, Britannia reports. The night before All Saints’ Day – Oct. 31 – was considered All Hallows’ Eve, which had holiday observers commemorating dead family members, martyrs and saints.
The secular and sacred holidays melded together by the medieval period and went on to be celebrated in England and Ireland among non-Protestant Christians. Eventually, All Hallows’ Eve became known as Halloween.
According to Britannica, Halloween made its way to the U.S. in the 1800s from immigrant groups who celebrated the holiday. By the 20th century, the holiday became popular among children.
Modern-day Halloween continues to be celebrated on Oct. 31 each year. Costumes, trick-or-treating and practical jokes are a big part of Halloween festivities along with references to spooky creatures, including witches, ghosts and goblins – all of which might come from the holiday’s Celtic origins.
Many Halloween celebrators host parties or attend special events if they’re not going door-to-door for candy. Some observers celebrate the Christian practices associated with the original All Hallows’ Even, which could include attending a church service, fasting and praying.
Halloween is celebrated in various countries throughout North America, Europe, Oceania and Asia.