How Halloween Came to Be

How Halloween Came to Be

 **For a great listing of local Halloween festivities, click here or here.

Halloween-time is my favorite time of the year. Admittedly, I’m more in love with the harvest look that shakes the trees, the colder weather, and the infamous PSL, but I also relish the spooky-murky-creepiness of the only holiday that fits my love of X-Files, Harry Potter, and Tim Burton all into one day.

But besides making the mortuary a “cool” place to work for a month, this holiday is also the only one that actively recognized the dead in its celebration.

Do you know anything about the origins of Halloween?

Well, let me take you on a brief journey through this history of how Halloween came to be.

This “hallowed” or “holy” evening is owed to the Celts, the specifics of which are due in some parts it seems to the pagans and others to their Christian roots – it all seems debatable but, it did start over 500 years ago.

The Pagans: Originally referred to as “Samhain,” this holiday marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year – a time when people believed that spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world. Desiring the fairy blessing on crops, people would leave out food and drink for them (sound a bit like Santa Claus to anyone else?). They also thought that the souls of the dead would visit their former homes on this night. Families would set places for them at dinner and candles would be lit to help guide the spirits home. After the eating and drinking that people would go “guising” (wearing costumes) to either avoid the fairy spirits, or to dress like the souls of their dearly departed.

Photo Courtesy of


The Christians: Halloween, as we know it, is the first of the three “Hallowmas” holidays with All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on the 2nd. Halloween comes from the term “Hallow even” where “even” is short for “evening” and somewhere along the line it got shortened to just Halloween.

The tradition of Trick-or-Treating seems to come from the practice of Christians baking “soul cakes” and distributing them to the poor (usually children) that came to their doors as a means of praying for the souls in purgatory. “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” (Prince Sorie Conteh).

Here’s my favorite Halloween tale, it’s about Jack and his lantern:

“On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree.

Halloween pumpkin grimming face in the dark close up

A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.”

UGH – Creepy right??

Ok, so there you have it, the super-short history of how Halloween came to be.

If you keep reading the Wikipedia page (where I got much of this), you’ll see that in Ireland they carved turnips until they discovered the pumpkin in North America. Turnips!

The True Meaning of Christma . . . I mean, Halloween:

Make things right. While we wear costumes for fun today instead of to ward off vengeful spirits, it’s still a good reminder to be at peace with your friends and family. To say what you’ve been meaning to, to hug the ones who matter, and to hand a snickers bar to that special someone.

Remember the dead. Whether that is carving a pumpkin in honor of them, lighting a candle, or even dressing like one of your loved one’s heroes. There are a lot of ways to remember them and in the midst of the hype to host parties and hand out good candy, it can be helpful to relax and just remember the origins and purpose of this day: to remember the souls we’ve lost.

So light a candle in memory of the person or pet you’ve lost and give candy to others with sweet word and good wishes on your lips.

Do so, and have a . . .


You can answer these questions or share your thoughts on the blog:

Will you remember someone this Halloween? Light a candle or carve a pumpkin?


What are your favorite Halloween traditions?


Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Fitz says:

    Hey Molly,
    A very cool and interesting blog. I kept saying to myself…”I didn’t know that.” Our neighborhood is crazy busy on Halloween. I mean hundreds of kids and parents. It has such a reputation that people from outside our neighborhood will come to our streets just to be around all the craziness. Your blog has encouraged me to think about this time a year in a different light. Thanks. I think I’ll start referring to it as “Mollyween”.

    • OH MY GOSH, hahahaha!! I feel so . . . complimented?? Thank you so much for reading this Fitz, I’m so glad you learned a bit more about this day. I would love to see your neighborhood in action some time, way too cool. Thank you so much for the new nickname, Happy Mollyween!

  2. Becky Finch Lomaka says:

    Molly, thanks for this interesting history of Halloween! How great to learn how the traditions started and the reasons behind them. It can be a struggle these days to remember the meaning behind holidays that have become so commercialized.

    We have some wonderful traditions in our sweet little neighborhood that, I hope, will help my children realize the significance of coming together as community. Leading up to Halloween, we “boo” neighbors by ringing the doorbell, leaving a sweet treat, then running away before they can see who left it; we have a neighborhood pumpkin carving night; and we have a neighborhood Halloween potluck (my sister-in-law always serves her famous “Ghoul”-lash) prior to sending the kids out trick-or-treating. Tonight when we carve the pumpkins I will share your story about Jack and his lantern!

    • Becky,
      I just love your neighborhood and your dedication to giving your kids such a fun-filled and community-rich childhood. They are going to look back on these days with golden memories that make them happy & heart-sick all at once.

      Thank you so much for reading, I can’t wait to hear more about all the festivities you get to enjoy tonight! Happiest of Halloweens to you!

  3. Anne says:

    Thanks, Molly, for the history lesson.
    My favorite Hallowe’en was making a really cool pumpkin costume for April at about age 7 or 8. She got first prize at school and I was so proud of my “talent (??)”. She was beautiful in it, so that helped I am sure.
    Other than that, it was fun to have Hallowe’en in a small town of 500 where I grew up until I was 10. Much different than a large city. Everyone knew everyone. It was cold. It was crisp. It was safe and there were tons of leaves to kick through as we covered as much of the town as possible. I would only eat one candy per day and usually had the last piece around Easter!! Ha ha.

    • Anne, what fun memories! Your childhood Halloween sounds just blissfully perfect. Small towns are so ideal for evenings like this and the autumns in Michigan just seem magical. I hope to see one for myself one day.
      I’m not surprised about April’s costume either – you are so creative & caring, no wonder she won!
      I hope you have a Happy Halloween!

  4. Jeff Turner says:

    I love this Molly. The evolution and homogenization of this holiday is quite interesting. I wonder if we would still recognize this holiday in say two to three hundred years from now? Anyway, thank you for the quick history lesson.

  5. Lori says:

    Great post! I admittedly have never researched the meaning of Halloween. I thought it was just the day I used to get a pillowcase filled with candy! Now I will know the deeper meaning of the holiday and be looking over my shoulder for Jack and his lantern. Thanks for that!

    • You’re so cute. Isn’t it fun to know the context & be smarter than everyone else? Well, you already know what that’s like but I’m glad I could share with you just a little bit! Happy Halloween, Lori!

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