All Hallows Eve

I don’t know about you, but going to a Catholic school as a kid I was taught that Halloween had its origins in ‘a world of evil and thank goodness it was followed by All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day‘. That never discouraged any of us kids from dressing up as hobos, indians, devils, princesses or soldiers back in the 1950s and begging for candy door-to-door. We threatened to play tricks like all kids but, if called on it, we wouldn’t have been prepared to follow through.

In doing a little research, I’ve found that the history of Halloween is far different than what Monsignor Watley, at Our Lady of Lourdes School, promised us during his weekly visit to our classroom. Could he have been wrong? Back then I didn’t think so, but here’s what I recently found out:

An Ancient Humble Origin

Autumn was a time of change…the season and the lifestyle. The Celts believed that the spirits of the dead would mingle with the living on the night of October 31st…some good and some evil or mischievous…faeries, ghosts and demons.

bonfireBonfires were built and lit up the night. The people honored those who had died the previous year and believed the fire helped them move on to the otherworld. They brought fruits, vegetables and animals to sacrifice to appease the spirits  and to keep them away from the living. The people also left food at their doors to honor good spirits and encourage them to bestow good fortune on the village residents. 

They wore masks and costumes of animal skins and heads to scare off the evil spirits and keep them from causing trouble, like bringing sickness down on the people. 

 It is believed that on that night of All Hallows Eve, “the cooking fires in the homes would be extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest. The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals to thank the gods for the harvest and appease the gods of the coming winter.

The morning after, the Druid priests would give a hot ember from the fires to each family, who would then take them home to start new cooking fires.”

Fire was an important component in the lives of the Celts. It cooked their food and warmed their homes, but it also kept evil spirits at bay.

Religious Holiday

All Hallow’s Eve, among Catholics, was always a religious holiday. Hallow meaning sainted or holy, October 31st, is the eve of All Saint’s Day, celebrated on November 1st. Most of America was populated by non-Catholics until the 20th century. Townspeople would be shunned, punished or arrested for partaking in Catholic holiday festivities and so, it took many years to catch on among non-Catholics.

Modern Adaptations

jack-o-lanternThe first Halloween lanterns were created a few hundred years ago in Ireland and Scotland from hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside. When the Scots and Irish emigrated to America, they found few turnips. Pumpkins were more plentiful and they soon realized how much easier it was to carve a pumpkin than a turnip.        

According to, , “the American tradition of trick or treating dates back to the All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor people would beg for food and families would give them “soul cakes” in return for a promise to pray for the families dead relatives. This was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. It was referred to as “going a-souling and was eventually taken up by children who would visit houses in their neighborhoods for food and money.”

Trick-or-Treating began to gain a foothold across the United States in the 1930’s. Though, begging for treats was not a popular concept in some areas. Adults “saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger.” I remember a few of my neighbors, in the 1950s and 60s, harbored these feelings and refused to partake in the tradition. 

What do you think of these ancient customs? What was your favorite costume as a child? What’s your favorite costume today?

You know I love hearing from you and anxiously await your comments!

Once the trick-or-treaters have been satisfied with handfuls of sweets, relax and enjoy a slice of Apple Pie or Pumpkin Bread with your hot cider. Then snuggle on the couch with your main squeeze and watch a Halloween classic  on your television. 



10 thoughts on “All Hallows Eve

  1. The only costume I remember was the year I dressed as a hobo. I think I was 10. Halloween was never a big thing for me but it has always been our son’s favorite day, (He’s now 36) He and his wife were married on Oct. 31–pretty smart when you consider he’ll never forget their anniversary. He always begins planning his and his kid’s costumes the summer before. His
    I really enjoyed reading what you’ve learned about Halloween. It isn’t the only holiday that has pagan roots. Dec. 25th was chosen as the day to celebrate Christmas in an attempt to deter the masses from celebrating The Feast of the Son of Isis which fell on the same date.
    Happy Halloween!

      • They totally know what hobos are! My son came home from school about two years ago talking about hobos. When I asked him why he called them that, it was because they read a book in class that had a hobo man living on a train. He then transferred the word to mean any homeless person.

        When we went to Los Angeles in May, he counted all the hobos he saw – 103 in three days. It was sad.

      • Omigosh, Tameri, 103?! I’m glad at least that the hobo has not lost his identity. He was an out-of-work man traveling to find a job. he did end up looking homeless and was, actually, homeless til he found work to send money home. What a lesson your son got, huh?

  2. I love your recounting of how Halloween got started. I think we sometimes forget that a ‘tradition’ wasn’t always so. I just learned today on another blog that the Celts and Druids say Oct. 31 as the end of the year and Nov 1 as the start of the new year. Wow.

    My favorite costume as a kid was this gorgeous red lace dress my mom made for herself to go dancing in – somehow it became a Halloween costume and we used to call it the ‘hooker’ dress. I only recently thought about how my mom must’ve felt about that. She never said anything, but I know that dress was special to her. It looked nothing like a hooker dress, so I don’t know why we called it that. It had a satin slip that you wore under the red lace dress, which was long sleeved, with a full skirt.

    Ah, memories. I might give Mom a call and ask her whatever happened to that beautiful dress. I wonder if she still has it.

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  5. My first remembrance was around 1962. I loved dressing up as a gypsy. i do remember that some houses did not participate and now I know why. We never wore costumes to school or had a party. It was Catholic school so that was not permissible then…great history!!

    • Oh yeah, gypsy was another popular costume. I remember my little sister, Cindy, was given one of those store-bought Cinderella costumes with the plastic mask the year I was a hobo again ’cause I couldn’t think of anything else to be. I was actually jealous of her chintzy costume! She was about 5 yrs old and enthralled with Cinderella, esp since that was what our Dad called her.

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