Where did Halloween come from? Origins of Halloween - and is it actually Scottish?

Spooky season is around the corner, but why did we start celebrating Halloween in the first place?

Halloween is the signature holiday of this time of year, where pumpkins get faces and everyone gets to dig out their favourite dress-up costume.

Halloween has been celebrated for hundreds of years, and our modern-day traditions look quite different to what our ancestors once did.

Still, you can still trace the influences of the ancient holiday back, and some of them might be closer to home than you’d think.

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    Halloween is thought to be a modern version of the ancient festival of Samhain. Photo: Jaspe / Canva Pro.

    Here’s where the traditions of Halloween come from - and which ones are particularly Scottish.

    Where did Halloween come from?

    What we call Halloween today was actually once the the Celtic festival of Samhain, a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

    It’s believed that Samhain had Celtic pagan origins and there are traces it has been celebrated all the way back in ancient times.

    As the nights grow longer, it was once believed that the barrier between our world and the next began to get thinner.

    At this time of year, it was thought that there was some sort of passage between the two.

    Great bonfires were lit by Celtic people to celebrate, as they pounded on drums to guide visitors from the other side of this barrier.

    People would also wear costumes to ward off malevolent spirits, the early versions of our modern-day tendency to dress up in costumes for Halloween.

    When the Romans came to Britain, Celtic people’s traditions slowly started to blend with the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona.

    Similar to Halloween, Feralia honoured the dead, while Pomona paid tribute to the goddess of fruits and trees.

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    What gave Halloween its name?

    In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st to be All Saints Day, a day to honour all saints and martyrs.

    This made October 31st All Saints Eve.

    The name evolved over time, turning into All Hallows Eve, then Allhalloween, and finally Halloween.

    What Halloween traditions come from Scotland?

    Many aspects of Halloween that we celebrate today come from America, with different European traditions mixing in with Native American ones over time.

    However, some traditions still have Celtic roots, meaning some of them could even be traced back to ancient Scotland.

    Where did the tradition of pumpkin carving come from?

    For example, although pumpkin carving was established in America, it’s thought to be based on a Celtic practice.

    During Samhain, children would make lanterns out of turnips.

    When the Irish reached America, pumpkins were more common than turnip, and so the tradition evolved.

    Why did children go guising in the past?

    Trick or treating is also a modern-day interpretation of a British tradition from the Middle Ages known as ‘souling’.

    Souling involved going from door to door and offering prayers for the dead in return for food.

    From the 19th Century, Scottish children adopted a similar practice of ‘guising’, or dressing up as evil spirits to ward off any malevolent ghosts while souling.

    Although the way we celebrate Halloween probably looks quite different to how our ancestors once did, it’s interesting to see how those ancient practices can link with modern festivities.


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