Origins of Halloween

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Pumpkins, scary decorations, an overabundance of fun-sized candy in your grocery store--it’s Halloween! It’s the one day all kids look forward to as they knock on doors with their friends and loved ones to collect their candy.

But did you know that origins of Halloween was less festive and fun? 

According to, Halloween (also known as Samhain) was a day for the Irish to ward off evil spirits by lighting a sacred bonfire and wearing costumes. Other practices included:

  • Burning crops and sacrificing animals to Celtic deities 
  • People read fortunes by reading each other’s costumes
  • Once everyone was done, they relit their hearth using the flame from the sacred bonfire to protect them from the upcoming winter

When Christianity found its way into Ireland, the church kept many of their practices while incorporating new ones. By 1000 AD, the church designated November 2 to be All Souls Day--a day where poor people will visit affluent homes for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of their loved ones².

Eventually Halloween found its way to the United States and its own identity was shaped by the customs and traditions early Europeans settlers and Native Americans¹. Ghost stories, parties, and celebrating the harvest all became an integral part of early American Halloween celebrations¹. Interestingly enough, Halloween was celebrated mainly by states like Maryland and southern states¹. Waves of Irish immigrants helped spread the holiday throughout the states and eventually it became mainstream.

But, for a while, celebrating Halloween became difficult. During World War II, sugar rations made it difficult for people to pass out candy and it wasn’t until the baby-boomer generation that Halloween made a comeback².

Today, Halloween is now one of the most popular holidays in the United States that is widely celebrated and has evolved into being one of the most commercial holidays as well. It is expected that this year’s Halloween will generate over 8.8 billion dollars, the bulk of which is comprised of costume and candy sales³.

For more information on the history of Halloween click here:


¹, “Halloween 2019”

², “How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition”

³National Retail Foundation, “Retail Holiday and Seasonal Trends: Halloween”.