HALLOWEEN – The story behind it

Watch this History Channel bit about the history of Halloween.

Halloween is an annual celebration. It is a mixture of Celtic, Roman and Catholic celebrations. In the 5th Century Celtic Ireland summer ended on 31 October. People celebrated the Celtic New Year and Samhain (sow-en), God of the Sun.

The Celts believed that the souls of the dead come back to Earth that day and take the living with them. So on October 31 they built bonfires and each family got an ember from the remains of the fire – they took it home to light their houses and start a fire at home. They also dressed up in ghoulish costumes to frighten the ghosts away.

A few centuries later Romans adopted some Celtic traditions but they also honoured Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

When the potato crop failed in Ireland in the 1840s, Irish immigrated to America and brought the customs of Halloween with them.

A popular symbol of Halloween is the Jack-o-lantern. The custom comes from Irish folklore. According to the legend, a man named Jack was a notorious drunkard and trickster. One day he tricked Satan into climbing a tree. When Satan was at the top, Jack carved a cross into the trunk of the tree so Satan couldn’t climb down. Jack was not allowed to enter Heaven as he was a drunkard. Satan didn’t let him to enter the Hell because of the trick. Satan gave him a single ember that Jack put into a turnip and he was walking the streets of cities with his special ‘candle.’

The custom remained, but the turnip was turned into a pumpkin and the ember into a candle. Some people still believe that Jack is on the streets so they put Jack-o-lanterns into their windows to frighten both the ghosts and Jack away.


annual: sg happening once every year
ember: burning / lighting remains of a fire
to honour,-ed,-ed: to celebrate; to salute with a bow in square dancing
a goddess: a female god
notorious: sy who does sg bad very often
a drunkard: likes going to the pub and is drunken quite often
to carve,-ed,-ed: to cut sg (e.g.: a symbol or words) into wood using a knife
a trunk: the main body (stem) of the tree