The History of Halloween


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It’s that time of year again for all those creepy crawlies, zombie cheerleaders, and various children in Fortnite costumes to swarm the streets looking for all the houses that give out full sized candy bars and the occasional Halloween shenanigans that ensue. This is the Halloween that most Americans are all familiar with and grew up in. Yet, Halloween has been influenced by multiple cultures over human history and goes back to the ancient celts and Popes of old.

The first traces of the Halloween we know started with the culture of the Celts, a group of people who lived in the areas of Ireland, England, and the northern France. The Celts celebrated a festival that was known as Samhain. According to history, “This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” The celebration was believed by the Celtic people to protect them from the ghosts that roamed by lighting fires in their hearts from a sacred fire and wearing masks when leaving their house so they couldn’t be possessed.

Fast forward to the time of Christianity and Samhain started to evolve with the invention of All Saints Day. All Saints Day began with Pope Boniface IV dedicating the Pantheon in Rome for saints and martyrs to be celebrated, starting on May 13, 609. Pope Gregory III changed the date to November 1st, which many believe was to align with Samhain and attempt to replace the celebration with something church friendly, because they both revolved around remembering the dead.

As we reached modern times, the idea of Halloween evolved into what we know today. At first, it focused on witches, pranks, and other religious rituals and icons. Once, we reached the 1900’s, Halloween had become less associated with religion. Instead, it had evolved into a secular holiday, in which it focused on kids getting dressed up in costumes, their families going around to houses. and getting candy. People got tired of kids pranking the houses in their neighborhoods.

Halloween at Millikin has taken many forms throughout its history. One example is that the university had a Halloween party where students entered a “gypsy” type room with “real” fortune tellers, had their fortunes read, and ended up having an argument over the best way to avoid ghosts. One year there was even a masquerade party hosted by the Young Men’s Christian Association, and in a preview,  it had the quote, “A college student is a poor sort of a stick if he can’t make a circus out of himself at a Halloween party.” Lisa Hill, a student worker at the archives on campus, described some other weird Halloween traditions, “They made people pluck a ring out of a bag of flour with their teeth or where they had set up a tunnel of love in a classroom and pulled couples around in a little red wagon.” So from Samhain and All Saints Day to the Halloween of today, you can take some history to those zombie cheerleaders and children dressed in Fortnite costumes, and tell some creepy stories around the campfire to those ignorant souls.


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