Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, as it was once called, will soon be upon us and over the years, since it first made its modern day debut in the UK, it has come to pass that this is one holiday that seems to divide camps.

Strictly speaking there are those who will be revelling in the fun and frolics come nightfall on October 31st and then there are those who will be barring their doors in refusal to take part. But whatever side of the fence you sit there is no denying that the holiday grows in popularity year on year.

Predominately an American festivity, the UK partook with a few pumpkins and kids dressed up in witches’ hats and warty rubber noses, but fast forward a few years and it is now a full on speculate and celebration this side of the pond too. Pop-up Halloween stores are now the norm, adults throw their own wickedly good parties and our supermarkets are over taken with decorations, candied spooky treats and costumes that are bigger and better than ever. We even have visitor friendly pumpkin patch farms in our countryside. But where did it all come from? Well, despite the Americans early adoption of the Halloween we have come to love, or loath as the case may be, it was actually the Celts who started the autumnal festival.


Halloween was once the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark. In part Samhain was a kind of harvest festival, but the pagan Celts also believed it was a time when the walls between our world and the next were at their thinnest veil, allowing spirits of the dead to pass through. The practice of wearing spooky costumes may have its roots in that time old belief; dressing up as ghouls and other haunting characters originated from the ancient Celtic tradition of townspeople disguising themselves as demons and spirits. The Celts believed that disguising themselves this way would allow them to escape the notice of the real spirits wandering the streets during Samhain.

The same goes for pumpkins or Jack O’ Lanterns too…an old Irish legend tells of a man named Stingy Jack, a penny-pinching farmer who played a trick on the devil one too many times – his punishment? He was forbidden entrance into both heaven and hell and was condemned to wander the Earth, waving his turnip candle lit lantern to lead people away from their paths. When the tradition moved to America pumpkins replaced turnips and the grinning orange Jack O’ Lantern was born. It is thought, even now that placing a lit pumpkin head in your window come All Hallows Eve will ward off unwanted bad spirits.


Trick or Treat is the catchphrase of the night and is typically adopted by children who wander the streets dressed in their spooky best and go door to door offering those brave enough to answer a simple option – give us a treat or receive a trick from us. As menacing as this may sound, it truly is not. The practice rarely ends in any trickery and homes dish out candy bars and sweet to cute children out to try their luck. Today the sign of a Jack O’ Lantern in the window means Trick or Treaters welcome. It is possible that the tradition emerged independently in America with first known mention of Trick or Treating in print occurring in 1927 in Blackie, Alberta, North America. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Trick or Treating came to Britain and was then (and remains) viewed with some suspicion. The Americans may have coined the term but once again the tradition is one from the ancient Celtics. They are said to have put out treats and food to placate spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain.


So there you have it, despite all the state side hype and American pomp Halloween is in fact an Irish festival! So this year whether you celebrate or not try to remember the real roots of All Hallows Eve and let out what has gone with the light and welcome what is yet to come, remember those who are no longer with us and make peace with the world at sleep. Because really, for all of the darkness, ghosts and ghouls Samhain had its roots firmly based in the natural world and the processes of life and passing.

About the author

At 5ft 1 (and a half) Sophie may be small but she is certainly fierce. After finding out she was dyslexic at the age of seven she made it her life’s mission to wage a war against words and carve a career out of a craft she admired so much. Hard work, determination and a lot of journals later, Sophie graduated with a degree in journalism. Her obsession and love for the written word has seen her as Editor at Semple to now blogging her way around the world. She’s irrationally angry, partial to a LARGE glass of chardonnay and has an intolerance for most people.

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