Magazine topic: 
Life around the world
Total votes: 183

The history of Halloween

by : 

As I start to plan my hotdog costume for Halloween on Saturday, I begin to consider what the history of the festival is and how on earth hotdogs are related to it. Well, in short, they’re not; but then how has Halloween developed over the years to allow me to go to a party this weekend dressed as fast food!? Today, the celebrations have clearly become westernised as well as commercialised, particularly in the USA where it is now the holiday that makes the most money after Christmas. As well as dressing up, these days we’re used to haunted houses, pumpkins, scary face paint and trick-or-treating (when children knock on neighbours’ doors either to demand a treat – usually chocolate and sweets – or else threatening to play a trick or a prank on them).

However, the Halloween we know today actually originates from as long as 2,000 years ago from a festival called Samhain. This was celebrated on 1st November by the Celts who lived in Britain and northern France. The evening before, it was believed that the dead would return, and as a result people would wear disguises as ghosts to trick the real ghosts into thinking they were not alive. In the 8th century this festival became known as All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, and the night before called All Hallows’ Eve, which is where the current name Halloween comes from.

Trick-or-treating originates from several traditions in medieval Britain on the festival All Souls’ Day that were taken to America by British immigrants in the 19th century. These traditions included poor people begging for food known as soul cakes, in return for agreeing to pray for the dead; or young people dressing up and offering entertainment such as singing in order to receive gifts of money, food or drink. Other rituals included superstitious games that related to women finding themselves husbands, these games often involving food.

So nowadays, although my Halloween experience will also involve food (of course via my costume), our celebrations have clearly come a long way from the traditions of 2,000 years ago. Nevertheless, we can recognise many similarities that explain some of the stranger aspects of Halloween, and of course the history helps to remind us what Halloween is really about.

Information from


Do you celebrate Halloween?


Ken's picture
Ken 31 October, 2016 - 15:12

I don't dress up for Halloween...

instead, I eat a lot of pumpkins!

42 users have voted.
Manaly's picture
Manaly 23 July, 2016 - 21:14

I never celebrated Halloween but i would like to. I would like to wear some funny masks that i usually see in Halloween celebration !!

59 users have voted.
WyldWolfDragon's picture
WyldWolfDragon 10 April, 2016 - 00:55

Halloween is the only holiday where i can have real fun, and i was born on 'All souls day' which i think is awesome. I don't celebrate Halloween but i participate in the trick-or-treating. :P

62 users have voted.
movingtobritain's picture
movingtobritain 2 November, 2015 - 10:37

me and my parents are moving to the uk and I am going to start in the last GCSE year (or in the year 14/15 year olds)and I have to write something called a personal statement on why I want to go to that school since it is a really fancy (or how people here call it posh XD) school. could anyone of the team maybe write some tips for this kind of application? I believe people going into sixth form or university also have to write this so there might be a lot more people who could take advantage of this.

51 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
JoEditor 2 November, 2015 - 14:17

Hi movingtobritain!
How exciting that you're moving to the UK soon. Have you seen our Video UK section? There are lots of videos there that will help to prepare you for your new life in the UK. 
We don't have any exercises or tips for how to prepare a personal statement. This is something we may consider for future material. There may be some information on the British Council's Education UK site about this. Have a look and see what you can find. 
Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish Teens) 

55 users have voted.
movingtobritain's picture
movingtobritain 2 November, 2015 - 08:03

mmm... very interesting, it seems that even though America,UK and Canada celebrates halloween as a kind of carnival where you can dress up however you want, in the northern countries of Europe (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Holland) if they dress up they do it scary....

60 users have voted.
bojana13's picture
bojana13 1 November, 2015 - 19:46

Sadly no...But I would like to celebrate Halloween I like makeng costimes and masks .My friends and I made masks for Halloween it was great and very funny,

58 users have voted.