The Dark History of Halloween – How did it start?

Halloween is finally here! Millions of people celebrate every year, whether it’s pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating with the kids or getting dressed up and heading to a messy Halloween party – we’ll definitely be doing the latter.

But have you ever wondered about how it all started? Why do we celebrate Halloween and what’s the story behind it? In this week’s spooky blog, we’re we’re putting down our vapes and taking you way back in time to explore the dark and eerie history of Halloween.

What’s the story behind Halloween?

It’s widely agreed that the earliest form of Halloween originated around 2000 years ago, dating back to a festival called Samhain, pronounced “sow-win”. This Celtic festival celebrated the end of harvest in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. According to Celtic mythology, spirits and souls of the dead could return to earth during Samhain, making it easier for priests or druids to predict the future

To stop the otherworldly spirits from causing trouble and damaging crops, the Celtics lit bonfires and sacrificed crops and animals as a peace offering. They also dressed up, usually in animal hides and skulls, and attempted to read each other’s fortunes. 

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic’s territories, and they brought with them their own festivals.  During their reign, they merged Samhain with their traditions, and created a two day festival. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans celebrated the passing of the dead. The second day was held to honour Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is an apple, so it’s thought that this is the earliest origin of apple bobbing. 

Whilst Halloween is huge in America now, it took a long time to establish itself due to its rigid protestant belief system. In the latter half of the 19th Century, the influx of new immigrants from Ireland fleeing the potato famine helped to popularise the spooky festivities across the country. 

By the 1950’s, Halloween had become a secular, community focussed holiday that involved parades and parties. Due to the baby boom, parties in homes became more common, leading to the celebrations and trick-or-treating we have today! 

Why is it called Halloween?

Christianity eventually spread throughout the former Celtic lands, and in 1000 A.D. the church created All Souls’ Day on November 1st, during which they would honour the dead. Like Samhain, it was celebrated with bonfires and dressing up as saints, angels and devils. The day was also known as All-Hallows or All-Hallowmass, with the evening before named All-Hallows Eve, which we now call Halloween. 

Halloween husband hunting

Some of the more bizarre and lesser-known traditions were started by women in the 1700s and 1800s. Single ladies would perform various rituals in a bid to identify their future husbands, including apple bobbing, where the victor was said to be the next to marry. 

They would also throw apple peels over their shoulders, hoping to see their soulmate’s initials take shape on the ground. In a much creepier tradition, they believed that if they stood in front of a mirror in a dark room with a candle, their future husband’s face would appear in the reflection – we’re getting big Bloody Mary vibes. 

Why do we carve pumpkins?

Carving pumpkins is a common tradition on Halloween, used today to show that a house welcomes trick-or-treaters, but the story behind Jack ‘o Lanterns dates back to old Irish folk law and, unsurprisingly, a man called Jack.

The story starts with a local drunk, who trapped the devil one night by hacking a cross into the bark of a tree. In exchange for his release, Jack made Satan vow to never claim his soul.. 

Feeling quite smug, Jack went on to lead a pretty sinful life, which stopped him getting into heaven when he died. He returned to his old friend Satan in the hope that he would let him into Hell, but he was turned away as he couldn’t claim his soul, and to top it off, the devil threw a piece of burning coal at him. 

With nowhere to turn, Jack carved a parsnip and placed the burning coal inside it, creating a lantern. It’s said that Jack has been condemned to wander between the living and the afterlife ever since, unable to find an eternal resting place. 

Why are bats associated with Halloween?

The Celtic’s bonfires caused an influx of bugs, which attracted bats. This is the first association of bats with Halloween, but it was later reinforced by Nova Scotian mythology. It was said that a bat settling in a house meant a man in the family would die, but if it tries to escape, a woman would perish instead. 

So, that’s a look into some of Halloween’s dark history! Remember, until the end of the month we’re running loads of spooktacular deals both in-store and online! We hope you have a great weekend, however you’re celebrating – Happy Halloween!

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