The History of Halloween - How Halloween Became Such A Big Thing

Why are we now spending billions of pounds celebrating this spooky day?

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If you have the growing sense that Halloween is not quite what it used to be, you're both wrong and right.

Some of us Brits grew up going door-to-door, hoping for sweets over satsumas and may of us have carved a wonky face into a pumpkin.

But mostly, we've viewed Halloween as a predominantly American tradition, with their extreme dedication to Trick-or-Treat and spooky decorations.

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And though you are most certainly right that it was North America that suped-up the tradition, in a kind of Pimp My Ride: The National Holiday Edition kind of way, the history of Halloween does actually not belong to the Yanks.

It's actually a mish-mash of European traditions, originating in the Celtic fringes of Britain, and was adopted (and adapted) by the Christians and Pagans.

Early 20th Century Halloween celebrations in the U.S.

The Pagan Traditions

Under the Pagan tradition of Samhain, 'Summer's End', Gaels believed that at the end of the harvest there was opened a portal between the living and the dead, and that the change of the season was caused by ghosts and ghouls damaging the crops.

Many dressed up as souls of the dead in order to protect themselves, believing that if any ghosts crossed over to the living world, they would bypass places that a ghostly figure was already stalking.

Enter the Romans

In the first century, the Roman Empire had conquered Britain and much of Europe. Over their four hundred year rule, their own holidays were combined with Samhain.

There was a day called Feralia, in late October, to celebrate the dead, and Pomona was a holiday honouring the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona was symbolised with an apple and some people speculate this is where the origin of apple-bobbing came from.

Apple-bobbing in 1935
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But The Christians Had Other Ideas

The Christian contribution to Halloween, on the other hand, was a celebration of the feast of All Hallows, which started in the eighth century as an attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations.

Pope Gregory III designated 1st November as All Saints' Day. This new holiday was meant as a time to honour the lives of all saints and martyrs. And the night before Saints night became All Hallows' Eve.

All Hallows Eve incorporated much of the Samhain traditions, yet with a new Christian twist.

People would pray for souls who had not yet reached heaven, and the poor would beg for 'soul cakes' in exchange for praying for the souls of relatives, later adopted by children and becoming trick-or-treating.

Trick-or-treating in 1960

Halloween Is An Amalgamation

Over time, All Hallows' Eve evolved into Halloween, complete with the costumes from Samhain, apple-bobbing from Pomona and the trick or treating from All Hallows' Eve.

Scottish celebration of Halloween in 1780
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The first European Americans brought the historical tradition of Halloween over to America on the Mayflower, though it was the large immigrant arrival of the Irish in the middle of the 19th Century that really bolstered the celebrations.

Halloween in 1956, L.A.

In the 20th Century our friends over the pond redoubled their efforts to make Halloween a community-based holiday and last year Americans spent around $8.4 (£6.3) billion on the holiday.

Ketchup-based wounds have been replaced with the most Instagram-worthy make-up and your standard Jack-o-Lantern is now a work of art.

But before you rolls your eyes at the American decadence, you've got to remember, we started it.

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