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Halloween began as Hallows; a witches' festival falling on the last day of October. It is also called Samhain and Shamain. Halloween has a 3000 year-old history as a time to honor the dead. The pagan Celtic tribes of Ireland understandably worried about the coming winter. Led by their priests, the Druids, they celebrated a holiday known as Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-an’). They believed that the boundary between this world and the realm of the dead was especially thin on the last night of the harvest right before the first day of winter and their new year. They thought the dead souls could roam the earth at this time and gave offerings to appease them. Other pagan cultures such as the Romans and Spanish Indian had similar events independent of each other. Dressing up with painted faces and feasting confused the spirits, then the villagers paraded to the edge of town to lead the spirits away. When Christianity spread, the church saw a need to usurp these pagan customs with something more “holy” – a procedure which was used for other holidays as well. All Saints Day was moved to November 1 – the night before was All Hallows Eve (“hallow” means “holy”) which was condensed to Halloween. All Souls’ Day was designated for November 2. The old pagan customs remained popular and continued to be associated with the holidays to honor dead saints and relatives. Irish immigrants brought their folk traditions to America. In the 1920s, Halloween had lost most of its past religious significance and was adapted to become a fun, family, costume party event. Trick or treating became a popular children’s activity related to a centuries-old European custom of the prosperous folk giving food or cakes to the poor. As the holiday evolved to meet the needs of our modern culture, mass merchandising accelerated the observance of Halloween in America. But Halloween had a sinister side too. It became associated with pranks and vandalism. To suppress this, some communities hosted parties and parades for youngsters.
Recently, conservative Christians who misunderstand the ancient origins of the holiday, associate it with devil-worship and witchcraft. Incidents of fear mongering by the media and a rise in popularity of non-Christian religions increased the paranoia. Some communities have attempted to ban the celebration outright. To suppress an occasion for a creative community celebration and friendly interaction with our neighbors on the basis of an imagined evil is a shame.
- Sharon Hill (Scientist)
CSICOP Resources
Skeptical Inquirer Online Articles


Skeptical Briefs Online Articles
Skeptiseum Online Exhibits
Other Online Resources
Jerry Wilson: ��The History and Customs of Halloween
Horror Find: ��Halloween
Halloween Heaven: ��Halloween
Pro-Paranormal Online Resources

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