By Tim Lambert

Early Halloween

Our word Halloween is derived from the old words All Hallows Eve because it was the eve of All Hallows Day (I November). Hallow is an old word for saint and today we call 1 November All Saints Day.

In the 4th century the Church began to celebrate a feast to all the martyrs. At first it was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in late May or early June). The Eastern Orthodox Churches still celebrate it on that day. However in the West in 609 or 610 Pope Boniface IV moved the feast of all martyrs to 13 May. Then in the 8th century Pope Gregory III (731-741) made 1 November a feast to remember all saints and it became known as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day.

After the 16th Century Reformation All Saints Day and Halloween were virtually forgotten in most of England, along with most other saints days. However Halloween continued to be observed in Scotland and Ireland. There was a belief that ghosts and witches were particularly active on that day.

Modern Halloween

In the 18th century in Ireland Halloween became a day for playing pranks like blocking doors with carts, removing gates, throwing vegetables at doors and covering chimneys with turf. Note that there is no connection between the playing of pranks at that time and the modern Halloween custom of 'trick or treat'. The pranks and mischief making was done by adults and without knocking on your door to demand a 'treat' and carrying out a 'trick' if you did not give something. There were similar mischief making days in other parts of Britain at different times of the year.

In the mid-19th century Irish and other immigrants took Halloween customs to the USA and by 1900 it was a popular festival (at least with some people!). Playing pranks such as moving farm animals, removing gates etc. were common.

The Irish also hollowed out turnips and put candles in them. (The origin of this custom is not known). In the USA the turnip became a pumpkin.

The custom of children playing trick or treat at Halloween seems to have begun in the USA in the early 20th century although it only became really popular in the mid-20th century.

In the early 20th century little attention was paid to Halloween in Britain. However in the late 20th century the festival of Halloween was revived in Britain with parties becoming popular. The American customs of trick or treat and carving pumpkins at Halloween were imported at that time.

A short history of Christmas

A short history of New Year

A short history of Easter

A short history of St Georges Day

A short history of Mayday