This isn’t Halloween, this isn’t Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…at least this isn’t Halloween how it was years and years ago.

Originally Halloween was called Samhain (pronunciation and practices vary), and is still called that today by practicing Pagans. Samhain was a holiday the ancient Celts celebrated before their New Year (November 1st) by lighting bonfires, wearing costumes made of dead animals to ward off evil spirits and ghosts that may hinder their longevity during winter. This was their custom until the conquest of Great Britain by the Roman Empire.

The Romans celebrated All Martyrs Day on May 13th to honor all Christian martyrs. When the Romans occupied the Celtic lands, they changed the date to November 1st (the Celtic New Year) and renamed the festival All Souls Day. The names of both All Souls Day and Samhain underwent a metamorphosis. All Souls Day became Alholowmesse (All Saints Day) or All-hallowmas, and Samhain became All-Hallows Eve which we now call Halloween. Today Halloween or Samhain is on October 31 and All Saints Day is November 1.

When Halloween came to America it wasn’t widely celebrated, in fact the Southern colonies were more likely to celebrate than the colonies north of Maryland due to religious beliefs. The first versions of American Halloween were developed between the Colonists and the Native Americans. They would celebrate the harvest, tell ghost stories, tell fortunes, sing and dance. It wasn’t until the flood of immigrants in the mid-1800’s that Halloween became a national event.

Halloween today is known for the trick-or-treat activity which could have originated back to the All Souls Day parade from England. Poor people would beg for money and food which was usually a “soul cake” (get the recipe here) which would be given to spirits of the dead, or to the poor people who would in turn pray for the deceased family members.

Halloween went through a couple more variations from secular to more community based. Now we celebrate using some of the same traditions from thousands of years ago, but may not understand why. Remember no matter what you call it, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Samhain, it’s a holiday drenched in history and tradition and to celebrate it, is a treat of its own.