Halloween is not an American holiday. In fact, Halloween is considered to be one of the oldest holidays in the world, and one celebrated around the globe in one fashion or another.
It is not always labeled “Halloween” and doesn’t always fall on October 31.
In Mexico and throughout Latin American, for example, the Halloween-type holiday is known as Las Dia de los Muertos, a celebratory day meant to honor the dearly departed.
Halloween-type celebrations appear to be a product of timing, observances of life giving way to death. They arrive at the very end of the harvest when fields lie fallow, and just before winter starts to bear down on us.
“It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts,” according to History.com.
Fast forward to the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III chose November 1 as All Saints’ Day, a day to collectively honor saints and martyrs. And it wasn’t long until the night became known as All Hallows’ Eve and, eventually, Halloween. The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (“evening”), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. For instance, the carving of jack-o’-lanterns springs from the souling custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips.
The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.
The imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy). Among the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne in 1780, who made note of pranks at Halloween; “What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, as well as the supernatural associated with the night, “Bogies” (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns’ Halloween 1785. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, or mythical monsters. Black and orange are the holiday’s traditional colors.
Today, Halloween celebrations run the gamut in the U.S. West Hollywood and New York City celebrate as if there’s no tomorrow. Other places more or less close the curtains, turn out the lights and hope the kids pass us by. Some adults go all out with the costumes, while others wouldn’t be caught dead in some get-up.