Halloween – UK History and Traditions

The Halloween festival in the UK is over 2000 years old and dates back to the time of the Celts (600 BC-AD 50). The Celts celebrated the end of summer and the gathering of the harvest with a festival called ‘Samhain’, which took place on the night of October 31st. Even then, this date had ties to ghosts and the spirit world, as on this night the Celts believed that the boundaries between our world and the next would weaken, allowing the souls of the dead to cross over and communicate with the living. Much of the celebration involved building huge bonfires, which were thought to welcome spirits friends and ancestors, but ward off those deemed dangerous. People dressed in animal heads and skins and burned sacrifices and gifts in gratitude for the harvest.

Samhain was also a time for divination and divination. Apples appear widely in these divination techniques. For example, when looking for apples, a tradition that still survives to this day, the first person to take a bite of an apple would be the first to get married that year. Also, when peeling an apple, the longer the peel, the longer it is destined to live.

Following the invasion of the Romans in AD 43, two Roman festivals were held at the same time as Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day when Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees who was symbolized by the apple, was honored. The Romans were very open to the cultures of the people they invaded and sought to merge their beliefs with those of the indigenous Celts. It is perhaps easy to see why these two festivals were closely linked to Samhain.

Christianity had spread to Celtic lands in the 800s and the Christian church seems to have practiced its usual policy of adopting pagan celebrations by turning Halloween into a Christian observance. However, by moving the ancient Christian holiday from All Saints’ Day to November 1, they maintained the link with the remembrance of the dead. On All Saints’ Day, a mass was held to honor the saints and martyrs, and this was preceded the day before (All Saints’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve – in Old English, sanctify means holy) by a vigil. nocturnal. According to the early Christian church, this day also marked the release from purgatory of all souls for 2 days. All Souls’ Day, which commemorated the faithful departed, followed on November 2. Together the three festivals, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, became known as Hallowmass.

The ‘trick or treating’ custom, a large part of Halloween celebrations today, possibly has part of its roots in the tradition of baking soul cakes. This was an important feature of All Souls’ Day (similar to how we associate hot rolls with Good Friday today), when beggars wandered from house to house, receiving gifts of food and money. In exchange for a soul cake, these ‘souls’ would be expected to pray for those who had recently died, to hasten their passage through purgatory and reach heaven. The “trick” part of the custom appears to have arisen in the United States in the 1930s, where Halloween was associated with performing pranks and pranks.

Although the Church was successful in establishing Hallowmass as a Christian festival, much of the population continued to practice the ancient customs and traditions associated with Samhain. With the reform of the Church in the 16th century, celebrations of this type were further discouraged. However, following the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, many traditional Halloween practices, especially the building of bonfires, were moved to November 5 (now known as Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night). Although in England the celebration of Halloween gradually fell out of fashion in favor of Bonfire Night, the tradition lasted longer in both Ireland and Scotland, due to the strong Celtic ties in these countries.

The resurgence in Halloween celebration that we have seen over the past 20 years, with its emphasis on dressing up as ghosts and witches, has been largely imported from the US Halloween and its more pagan traditions were first brought to life. the US in the mid-19th century, when large numbers of Irish immigrants fled to the US after the Irish potato famine. Over time, the festival and its traditions evolved and crossed the Atlantic, giving us the celebration we know and love (or hate!) Today.

The celebration that we know today as Halloween dates back to an ancient Celtic festival: Samhain. Despite the passage of 2000 years, it is still possible to trace some of the traditions we associate with Halloween – bonfires and the bond with ghosts and the spirit world – to this early celebration of the end of summer and the gathering of the harvest. .


  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween
  • woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/Halloween/history.htm
  • ucc.ie/fecc/samhain.html
  • bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween.shtml
  • americancatholic.org/Features/halloween/
  • chalicecentre.net/samhain.htm
  • bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/samhain.shtml
  • new-life.net/halowen1.htm
  • hauntedbay.com/history/bobbing.shtml
  • britainexpress.com/History/Celtic_Britain.htm
  • britainexpress.com/History/Roman_invasion.htm

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