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A Visual Guide to Halloween & Its History

Whether you love getting dressed up, eating a ton of candy or using this festive fall holiday as a way to connect with friends and family, have you ever wondered how it got started?  Some civilizations began Halloween traditions as far as 3,000 years ago.  Other traditions are more recent.

By looking at the visual guide to the history of Halloween below, you’ll discover fun facts like how trick-or-treating began in England as well as customs from all over the world and throughout human history.

A visual guide to the history of Halloween

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In the Begining:

  • Samhain (pronounced sah-wayn) means summer’s end in Gaelic: a Celtic festival held on November 1st, celebrated with bonfires, animal sacrifices, and animal head costumes.
  • The day before, (Oct 31st) was considered a day when boundaries between the living and dead were blurred, and that the spirits of the dead would return to earth.
  • 43 A.D. Roman Empire conquered most of the Celtic territory, the Romans combined Feralia (a celebration of the passing of the dead) and the day to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona.
  • 609 A.D. Pope Boniface IV declared May 13th All Martyrs’ Day & built the Pantheon in Rome to honor martyrs. Pope Gregory III later changed the festival to All Saints’ Day and moved it to Nov 1st.
  • 1000 A.D. Christian Church declared Nov 2nd All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. It was celebrated like Samhain with bonfires, parades, and dressing in costumes of devils, saints, and angels.
  • Nov. 1st All Saints’ Day became All Hallows; Oct. 31st became All Hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween.
  • 1800s: Halloween becomes widely celebrated in America, parties, harvest celebrations, dancing, singing, wearing costumes, and ghost stories.

Traditions Around the World:

  • Austria & Germany– Nov 11th Martinloben (Feast of Saint Martin) – First Celebrated in the 4th century, the locals would enjoy music, eating roast goose, costumes, and a children’s lantern procession
  • England – Halloween originated as Mischief Night – First Celebrated in 1790 residents started trick-or-treating (yes it originated in England), and carving designs out of large beets called ‘punkies’
  • Hong Kong – Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar (AKA The Ghost Month).  First Celebrated – more than 2000 years ago  people would burn pictures of food or money to appease angry spirits; western-style Halloween is now celebrated by decorating stores, shopping centers, and theme parks for a spooky atmosphere
  • Latin America, Mexico, & Spain – Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrating the day for spirits to visit their families.  First Celebrated by the Aztecs more than 3000 years ago by incorporating decorations, food for the arrival of spirits, parade, and costumes

Creepy Cool Customs:

  • Austria – Leave bread and water out and keep the lights on after going to bed during the full week of All Saints Day to welcome the souls of the dead back to earth.
  • Germany – Hide the knives before bed so that spirits won’t accidently hurt themselves (or you).
  • UK – Stand in a darkened room while gazing into a mirror until the face of your future spouse appears over your shoulder, if you see a skeleton it means that you will die before you wed.
  • Czech Republic – Set chairs around the fire to talk to the dead.
  • Italy – Bake an oval-shaped cake called Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead); set it out and leave the doors open while you go to church so that that dead can ‘mangia mangia’ before returning to the afterworld.

Spooky Fun:

  • New Orleans, LA, USA – Join Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat Fan Club for the annual Coven Vampire Ball on the Friday before Halloween.
  • London, UK – With the Tower of London and the home of infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper, London has a haunted history that you can experience in its foggy streets and many haunted tours.
  • Bomarzo, Italy – Experience art while walking through Monster Park. Pass through the Ogre’s Gate to visit a previously abandoned park with a mysterious history full of creepy, ornate, monstrous statues.
  • Transylvania, Romania – Visit the source of the most enduring vampire legend at Bran’s Castle, also known as Dracula’s Palace. Take a tour of Vlad the Impaler’s former home and village below for a creeptastic experience.

You’re a Halloween expert…Now what?