Amanda B. 7-315

Origin of the Word "Halloween"

The word "Halloween" was first used in the 16th century as a variant of All Hallows' Eve (first seen in 1556) or the night before All Hallows' Day.


The holiday is believed to have Celtic roots despite the word "Halloween" being of Christian origin. It is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (Old Irish for "Summer's End). Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. During Samhain, a "door" was thought to be open between Earth and the Otherworld allowing souls of the dead and other creatures to enter our world. It was said that the dead revisited their old homes. At feasts, a place was set for dead family members.

But what really influenced Halloween was the steps the people took to ward away harmful spirits and fairies. The citizens wore costumes to disguise themselves from these creatures.

In the 19th century, turnip lanterns were made to protect homes from evil spirits. These lanterns had faces carved into them, just like modern jack-o-lanterns.

There is an old legend that also might explain the reason for jack-o-lanterns. In the legend, a man named Jack decided to trick the Devil. Jack imprisoned the Devil in a pumpkin. Later, he let the Devil out. Furious, the Devil cursed Jack to become a spirit forever. On Halloween, he is released to terrorize the people. The Irish placed pumpkins with faces on them to scare Jack away.

Christian Origin

There is also the Christian influence on Halloween. Halloween was originally called All Hallows' Eve, the night before All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is also called All Hallows' Day.
The origin of trick-or-treating is said to come from the tradition of "souling". Souling was the custom of baking soul cakes and sharing them. Groups of people, often children, went from door to door on All Saints'/All Souls' collecting these cakes.
Prince Sorie Conteh describes the history of costumes, "It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities."
The Christian theory of jack-o-lanterns is that they were originally used to represent souls in purgatory. Also, in Britain, children would visit graveyards and place candles in skulls.
In Britain, Halloween's popularity waned during the Reformation.

North America

Halloween was not celebrated in North America until the 19th century, when a wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants came. Still, it was not celebrated coast-to-coast until the first decade of the 20th century.

Symbols of Halloween

In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip is used as a traditional symbol of Halloween. In America and the rest of North America use a pumpkin, due to it being easier to carve.
Halloween's traditional colors are black, orange, and, sometimes, purple. The imagery of Halloween includes death, evil, and mythical monsters.

The History of Halloween