Many historians note that the origin of Halloween might have been the Celtic festival called Samhain which was typically observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man on October 31 – November 1. Samhain was seen as the end of the harvest season, the beginning of the “darker half” of the year, but more importantly – as a liminal time when the boundary between this world and the mythological Otherworld was becoming very thin and could easily be crossed. People were afraid of the spirits or fairies that could come into their world, so they used to leave food or drink for them, light the candles or set the dinner table to welcome them. The custom of wearing scary costumes is also rooted in that time – since at least 16th century people used to walk house-to-house in a costume and recite verses or songs in exchange for food. The costume might also have been a way of protecting oneself from supernatural beings. The practice was called “mumming” or “guising”.
Today’s Halloween customs are in many ways similar to those related to the Samhain festival. There was, however, a Christian influence on the observance, as it is today also known as All Hallow’s Eve – the day before a Christian holiday, All Hallow’s Day. The United States’ celebrations have also influenced the British way of observing the day. The custom of wearing costumes is today called “trick-or-treating" - usually children dress up in scary costumes and knock on their neighbours’ door asking for some sweets. If they do not get anything, they may reply with a trick or a joke. Teenagers and adults often gather together in their houses or in the cinema to watch horror movies.
In addition to scary costumes, pumpkins have also become a traditional symbol of Halloween. Many people carve lanterns out of them and put them outside of their house. This practice is rooted in the Irish legend of Jack the farmer, who wandered the Earth with a lantern made of a turnip searching for a place to rest after his death. This is why the lanterns carved today are called Jack-o’-lanterns. The pumpkins are often the only way of decorating the house in the United Kingdom. There are not many Brits that put a lot of Halloween decorations around their house, which is a typical practice in the United States.
Did you know?
In Scotland and the Isle of Man, Samhain festival is not forgotten. Those British regions still want to emphasize Halloween’s Celtic roots. On the Halloween night in Edinburgh, Scotland, an annual Samhuinn Fire Festival takes place. The celebrations include bonfires and dancing, and the whole festival is divided into chapters that are telling the story of the battle between the Summer and Winter King.
We asks for your consent to use your personal data
Personalised ads and content, ad and content measurement, audience insights and product development
Store and/or access information on a device
Your personal data will be processed and information from your device (cookies, unique identifiers, and other device data) may be stored by, accessed by and shared with third party vendors, or used specifically by this site. Some vendors may process your personal data on the basis of legitimate interest, which you can object to by managing your options below.