The Halloween holiday blends traditions and practices from many different cultures. The earliest celebrations date back centuries, to the Celtic culture of Northern France, England and Ireland. These festivals were centered on the end of summertime and the beginning of autumn, and also marked the Celtic new year, November 1.

The Celts believed that at this time, when the warmth and life of summer was fleeting and the cold and death of winter was being ushered in, that the clear distinction between the living and the dead became blurred. They believed that ghosts were able to return to earth to cause mischief, but could also make predictions about the future. To commemorate this, they dressed in costume and danced around a bonfire.


Eventually, the Romans conquered the Celts and the Celtic tradition blended with two Roman festivals: the day of the dead and the celebration of the goddess of fruit. Thus, Halloween became further linked with the dead, and the tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween developed.  Centuries later, the Catholic Church established All Souls Day on November 2, in an attempt the replace the festival. To celebrate All Souls Day, people dressed in costumes and danced around bonfires, much like the Celtic tradition. The celebration was called All-Hallows, based on a Middle English term meaning “All Saints”, and eventually morphed into All-Hallows Eve, and then Halloween.


Halloween was celebrated by small populations throughout the United States during the first years of colonization; and it wasn’t until waves of Irish immigrants moved to the U.S. in the 1850’s that Halloween grew popular with the masses. Modeling English traditions, children would dress up and go from house to house asking for treats. Eventually, people attempted to make Halloween a community-based holiday and the idea of a Halloween party grew popular.


By the 1920’s, Halloween had become a non-religious holiday, primarily focusing on community gatherings. In the U.S. today, it is a time for children and adults to dress in costumes and gather together for parties. The children go door-to-door in their neighborhoods asking for candy and return home with a bag full of sugary goodies.  Adults have elaborate parties in which they decorate their homes to appear haunted and frightening.  It is a time of indulgence, cheer, excitement and superstition, and a holiday looked forward to by every child and adult all year long. It is a night of fun and fright!

Andrea Paguin_American volunteer teacher at the DFL, AGU

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