History of Halloween

Our present-day Halloween celebration is rooted in Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival of the dead. The Celts believed Samhain was the day ghosts were free to mingle with the living. The people provided offerings of food and drink to appease these spirits, and lit bonfires to aid the dead on their journey. In an effort to weaken this pagan holiday, the Christian feast of All Saints was set for November 1. However, this Celtic festival’s mark was not completely erased, and All Hallows Eve—or Halloween—became the reincarnation of the celebration of the dead.

Halloween American Folklife CenterNot even today’s Halloween holiday can escape this ancient mythology. The ghost stories, haunted houses, pumpkin carvings, and trick-or-treaters that make up the Halloween celebration can all be traced back to Samhain.

Today, we celebrate Halloween with articles, videos, and lesson plans that cover the origin and history of Halloween. For those not faint of heart, we also have some historical ghost stories; click the links if you dare.

History of Halloween
Read about the history and customs of All Hallows Eve from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Folklorist Jack Santino explores the origin of Halloween, and discusses its different iterations through time.

Halloween New York TimesMulti-Media
The History Channel presents a short video on the haunted history of Halloween. Watch and learn how Halloween became the American staple it is today.

Lesson Plans
Cemeteries as Historical Ground
This lesson plan from The Learning Network of the New York Times introduces students to graveyards as significant historical places. Students will examine epitaphs and grave symbols, make connections to the society and time period the epitaphs are from, and create an epitaph for and a brief biography of a deceased historical figure whom they admire.

Origins of Halloween and the Day of the Dead
Through this lesson plan from EDSITEment, students will learn the history of Halloween, see how it compares to our modern Halloween, and explore Mexico’s El Día de los Muertos.Halloween - Edsitement lesson plan

Fun
Figures like Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, Robert E. Lee, and many others are part of chilling historical ghost stories. Check out the Travel Channel’s accounts of “Historic U.S. Ghosts,” and the History Channel’s “Famous Ghosts in American History.” Read about how the Philosophical Society’s statue of Franklin has been seen dancing along city streets, or read how Dolly Madison’s ghost prevented her cherished rose garden from being dug up.

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