TW Viewpoint | The Origins of Halloween

October 28, 2022 | Bruno Duval

Subscribe Today! If you would like to receive weekly emails informing you when new commentaries and Tomorrow's World Viewpoint videos are uploaded, please subscribe to our e-newsletter.


Do you know why people dress up on October 31st and parade around in their ghost or witch costume? They will undoubtedly answer: well yes, because it's Halloween! And they are right! But that was not the point of my question. I meant: do you know where Halloween comes from? Why is it so popular every year in North America and more recently in most Western countries?

Although in recent decades it has crossed the ocean in a commercial form to attack the old continent, the celebration of Halloween, so rooted in American and Canadian culture actually comes from Europe.

The encyclopedia Universalis reports that:

"Halloween is a Celtic and pagan festival ... which originated in the festival of Samhain that was celebrated by the Celts of Brittany and Ireland on November 1st." (Encyclopedia Universalis)

The name Samhain is derived from the contraction "summer ends". Indeed, it is at this time that the Celts began their new year.

Still, according to Universalis.

"This date marked the moment when the herds left the pastures and the leases were renewed, the end of summer and the entry into winter, the passage from light to darkness. This day was also for the Celts the time of the "returnees", because the souls of the dead were supposed to visit their families. Bonfires were lit on hilltops to protect homes against the cold and dead of winter and to ward off evil spirits. Participants wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts they thought were present at the festival. This is also the reason why Halloween is associated with witches, goblins, fairies, demons and other fantastic creatures." (ibid.)

A few hundred years later, in the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV established the feast of All Saints on May 13. In the year 875, nearly 270 years after the establishment of All Saints' Day, Pope Gregory IV changed the date of this feast to November 1st. No doubt he wanted to Christianize the pagan festival of Samhain. With this change of date, we understand better why Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. It also allows us to understand the origin of its name. Indeed, it is from "ALL Hallows' Eve" that we get Halloween. From then on, the two holidays would coexist, to become what they are today. Although once firmly repressed and even forbidden in the new American colonies, the immigration of the Irish in the 19th century, bringing with them their traditions, would revive and definitively establish the Halloween celebration in the United States.

Today, Halloween is mainly a secular, predominantly commercial holiday where the marketing of fear and horror are exploited to the fullest. On a commercial scale, in the United States, a quarter of the candies that are purchased in a year are bought during the Halloween celebration. According to the Yahoo.com, Americans spend nearly 3 billion US dollars on costumes each year, and estimations suggest even more spending in the years to come.

But is Halloween as innocent a holiday as people want to believe? Statistics in various countries around the world show that crime increases drastically on Halloween night. The origins of the Halloween festival, the values and morals which they convey are undoubtedly at the root of such an upsurge of violence. As the saying goes, the apple never falls far from the tree. Why have fun scaring yourself? Come to think of it, why put on hideous costumes, or seek out that which is deadly or reveal in the paranormal? Is it possible that false beliefs about death and all that surrounds it has been the cause of this confusion and this appeal to horror?

Let's consider the words of an ancient king whose wisdom exceeded that of his peers who once said:

"For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for their memory is forgotten. And their love and their hatred and their envy have now perished, nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

If the statements of this wise man are true, perhaps we should leave the dead in peace and not impute to them actions that they are unable to commit. The application of this principle would undoubtedly eliminate much abuse, fear, crime and mental distress, and contribute to a healthier and more respectful society. If you want to know more about this subject, read our article Holydays or Horror-Days?

Watch The Origins of Halloween on YouTube at Tomorrow's World Viewpoint