The roots of what we now know as Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"), which means "summer's end". The Celts believed that the "veil" between the worlds of the living and the dead was thin from the last night of October through to the first night of November. It was the Celtic new year, a time when spiritual power heightened, marking the last harvest, the end of foraging for livestock, and the beginning of winter. Samhain was then adapted into the Catholic celebration of All Saints' Day, or "All Hallows' Eve", which was then contracted into "Halloween". Originally, in the seventh century, All Saints' Day was celebrated on May 13th, right after Easter. A few centuries later, it was shifted to November, to incorporate Celtic Samhain traditions in an effort to convert pagans. Some Orthodox churches continue to celebrate it in April, as did the Irish for a time.
Many of the modern practices associated with Halloween have their roots in these two old festivals.
- People would disguise themselves if they went out on Hallow's Eve, so the spirits would mistake them for one of their own and leave them alone.
- The Celts believed that if a spirit came to your house, you had to feed it, or it would curse you. This, combined with the related Christian practice of “souling” or “guising” (coming to people’s doors and praying for the dead in exchange for food or money) developed into modern trick-or-treating.
- Apple bobbing was originally one of many divination methods practiced on Samhain, sometimes to foretell the events of the new year but often to foretell whom you would marry. (There was a similar ritual involving kale— if the kale’s roots had soil stuck to it when you pulled it out of the ground, your husband would be wealthy!)
- The original jack-o-lanterns were turnips, not pumpkins, because pumpkins are native to North America. Now, carved pumpkins are practically synonymous with Halloween, because Irish immigrants in America found them more available and easier to carve.
- Some people still light bonfires on Halloween. For Christians and pagans, bonfires represent the continued presence of the sun as the days grew shorter, and were used to drive away spirits/the devil/etc. and guide the souls of loved ones back home.
Halloween was imported to the U.S. and Canada in the 19th century, a time that saw substantial Irish and Scottish migration to the New World. Back in this time, Halloween in North America was more of a celebration of Irish and Scottish national heritage than anything else, much like St. Patrick's Day for Irish Americans or Columbus Day for Italian Americans. It was celebrated with large feasts, apple bobbing, and other divination games, as well as pranks and mischief. By the turn of the century, the "pranks and mischief" had become the defining feature of Halloween, turning it into a night of vandalism. As a result, the Boy Scouts and neighborhood groups started working to turn Halloween back into a safe celebration for youngsters, organizing trick-or-treating events based around the old practice of "guising" to redirect the focus of the festivities away from violence. With Halloween now becoming a popular celebration outside of Welsh, Irish and Scottish neighborhoods, retailers seized upon a brilliant opportunity to have a new holiday to secularize and commercialize. While there was some commercialization going on before (mass-produced costumes were appearing in the 1930s), it really took off after World War II, and it hasn't stopped since. In a phenomenon not unlike Christmas Creep, retailers have gradually expanded Halloween from a simple one-night affair to an entire "season" that can begin cropping up as early as August. And sometime around the Turn of the Millennium came the emergence of the Hotter and Sexier, more Stripperiffic Halloween for young adults, opening up a whole secondary market for businesses to cater to.
Today, Halloween is considered a major holiday in the U.S., Canada, Mexico (where it retains more of a Catholic bent, as it falls right before the Día de los Muertos celebrations), and the British Isles (where it is more strongly influenced by the older traditions, particularly in Ireland, Scotland, Northern England and Wales). It has also caught on in mainland Europe, India, the Philippines, and Japan through exposure to American media. Australians are coming under the influence of Halloween due to increasing Americanization but many reject it due to having nothing to do with Celtic-Australian culture, and the heavy commercialization has come under scrutiny. Though the general public recognizes Halloween as a secular holiday, some Christians and Neopagans continue to recognize it as a holy day, sometimes by visiting cemeteries to pray and place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones.
The vernal counterpart for the celebrations would be Walpurgisnacht, which occurs on the 30th of April, or Beltane (May Day) on the 1st of May. For other related tropes, see the Halloween section of the Holiday Tropes index.
In popular culture:
- Mentioned in one story arc in Umineko: When They Cry where Maria loves Halloween because of its association with witches. She wants to go trick or treating despite the fact that it is not a practice done in Japan.
- Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is set on Halloween.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: A chapter and episode discuss Halloween on how things change over time to the point they are unrecognizable.
- A disproportionate number of EC Comics stories take place on Halloween. To name a few: "Halloween!", "Sugar 'N Spice 'N...", "The October Game,"
- The horror/comedy anthology film Trick 'r Treat is based around the holiday, and proudly features many of the tropes surrounding it (including the popular conception of Halloween as an old Celtic pagan holiday).
- The classic 1978 slasher flick Halloween involves masked killer Michael Myers slashing his way through his hometown on (of course) Halloween. The other films in the subsequent franchise all take place on the holiday as well.
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch was an attempt to create an anthology series, but poor response scrapped these ideas and the producers have kept using Myers for the rest of the series. The plot of the film revolves around a man who believes that Halloween has grown too commercialized and has lost touch with its roots in pagan tradition, and seeks to restore that tradition by using his toy company and some Stonehenge-powered magitek to carry out a mass Human Sacrifice.
- Mean Girls has a scene where Cady goes to a Halloween party. The sluttiness of the women's Halloween costumes is both parodied and exploited for fanservice.
- A Halloween party in Night of the Demons (1988) and its sequels serves as a catalyst to demonic activity.
- Kenny & Co follows a young boy and his friends' everyday lives over a few days leading up to Halloween. That gave the director some ideas...
- Hocus Pocus is set on Halloween.
- Halloweentown, of course.
- Funsize, a teen comedy which takes place mostly on Halloween night.
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial takes place a few days before, during and a couple more days after Halloween.
- Arsenic and Old Lace actually takes place on Halloween, although the only real nod to the holiday comes early on when some trick-or-treaters visit (in the daytime!).
- Left Bank features Samhain as the climactic ending night of the film when the human sacrifice is performed.
- Casper happens around Halloween, ending at a Halloween party specifically.
- Spaced Invaders depicts an attempted Alien Invasion of a small town by a crew of incompetent Martians after they intercept a Halloween re-broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds.
- Meet Me in St. Louis, which is set in 1903-04, has a Halloween segment. It depicts the turn-of-the-century "pranks and mischief" version of the holiday.
- At the start of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the Turtles pass by a Halloween parade.
- The climax of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is set on Halloween night. On a meta-level, the film was released ten days before the holiday.
- The Dresden Files: Harry's birthday is on Halloween. Which is unfortunate, as spirits tend to get restless that night each year. A plot point in Dead Beat, as Halloween is the optimal night to set off the Darkhallow. This is justified in Cold Days as this night is when the world of Nevernever and human realm are at their closest. The result is the possibility for a mortal to become immortal and for an immortal to be killed this night. Immortals also use this night to recharge some strength by devouring mortals. It was the second or third Merlin who started the custom of dressing as creatures, so immortals would be unsure if their target was mortal or something else. And All Hallows Eve does not end at sunrise, but the first birdsong is sung.
- Claire Byrd the ghost who possesses Lori from Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, was born on October 31st.
- Harry Potter frequently features Halloween festivities at Hogwarts, most notably in The Philosopher's Stone and The Half-Blood Prince. It is also worth noting that October 31, 1981 is the date that Harry's parents were murdered.
- In Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs., Autumn is an alternate universe, and Halloween is a very powerful force in it.
- The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury takes a group of boys through the history of Halloween as they try to save their missing friend.
- In Among Others, the dead come back for a day on Halloween.
- Halloween Specials and Halloween Episodes, by their very nature.
- In the Buffyverse, Halloween is a day of rest for supernatural forces (vampires, demons, etc.), who view the whole celebration as tacky. Buffy the Vampire Slayer also did its requisite Halloween episodes in seasons 2, 4, and 6, with spinoff Angel doing one in season 5.
- American Horror Story: Murder House had the requisite Halloween episode (a two-parter, actually), but notable is how the actual holiday is treated in the show's universe. Specifically, it conflates Halloween with Samhain; it is the day when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is briefly lowered, allowing ghosts to go out into and interact with the outside world. Patrick is able to go out to a gay bar and, for one day, escape his loveless relationship with Chad, Moira visits her ill mother and puts her out of her misery, and Tate is able to take Violet out on a date — and is confronted by the ghosts of the classmates he killed (who had been stuck at the school).
- American Horror Story: Hotel follows up on this, by having the ghosts of famous serial killers (including John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, and Aileen Wuornos) use Halloween to hold a "Devil's Night" party at the Hotel Cortez, where they discuss their crimes and carry out new ones against the hotel's hapless living guests. The party is hosted by the ghost of James Patrick Marsh, the man who built the hotel in the 1920s to serve as a massive serial killer lair, filled with hidden passages to dispose of the people he killed. It's implied that the whole party may have been just John Lowe hallucinating from the absinthe he drank, but then again, maybe not.
- Roseanne was famous for its annual Halloween episodes, and indeed was one of the very first sitcoms to do them.
- Helloween: "Halloween" from Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part 1.
- And, of course, the band's own Punny Name.
- Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is a classic staple of the American Halloween tradition, although the holiday itself is never mentioned in the lyrics.
- Ditto Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash".
- "Halloween" by the Dead Kennedys
- "The Haunted House of Rock" by Whodini is a Hip-Hop celebration of classic Halloween motifs
- "Everyday is Halloween" by Ministry
- "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?" by the "North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative" is a charity single by a cast of performers.
- "Spooky" by the Classics IV.
Just like a ghost, you've been a-hauntin' my dreams, so I'll propose... on Halloween.
- "Halloween" by Aqua. The song is also inspired by Slasher Movies.
- In Mysterium, the ghost is only able to send his visions on Samhain (which equals to Halloween) because the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest.
- Costume Quest features trick-or-treating kids trying to stop monsters that are stealing candy.
- Banjo-Kazooie features a Halloween themed world named "Mad Monster Mansion". You even get to transform into a pumpkin in this world, one of the most popular symbols of the holiday.note
- Sonic Adventure 2 features Pumpkin Hill as a playable level for Knuckles. As the name suggests, it's a cutesy-horror themed stage with landmarks such as graveyards, churches, and , of course, mountains shaped like jack-o-lanterns. One of Shadow's (few) stages, Sky Rail, also takes place in Pumpkin Hill, but in daylight; a less demonic appeal.
- Death Smiles.
- Hallow's End is an EarthBound ROM Hack that was made for a Halloween themed EarthBound contest featured on Starmen.net. Naturally, the plot of the game takes place on Halloween, and the original Halloween Celtic Mythology is a major part of the plot. As well as candy. Lots and lots of candy.
- Batman: Arkham Knight takes place on Halloween and features the scarecrow as the main villain.
- The House of the Dead III takes place on October 31, 2019.
- A few days after the Sole Survivor wakes up in Fallout 4, on October 31, Diamond City will be decorated with Halloween decorations, and guards will complain about having to work on Halloween. Also, given that the nuclear apocalypse occured a few days before Halloween (October 23), many locations around the Commonwealth will have Halloween decorations up, especially if they have been untouched since the bombs fell (a detail curiously ignored in the previous games).
- Moshi Monsters: The mission "Spooktacular Spectacular" takes place on Halloween.
- The Onion:
- A one-two punch at both the commercialization of Christmas and Halloween's alleged pagan history by asking the question, "Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?"
- "How To Find A Masculine Halloween Costume For Your Effeminate Son"
- "How To Get Your Son To Remove His Halloween Costume"
- I Mockery absolutely love this holiday, and all October the site is given a change in design with articles exclusively focusing on the holiday, what candy seems to be handed out this year, impressive (along with kitschy or downright terrible) celebrations throughout America, tributes to old horror games and movies, and the usual antics of the staff getting caught up in the holiday. They have a similar celebration for Christmas as well.
- The Halloween parties at Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe are only a part of a hellish night for the school, covered in two novels.
- The horror/comedy web novel T.O.T. takes place entirely on Halloween night and focuses on a group of adolescent trick-or-treaters.
- The Smurfs have "The Smurfs' Halloween Special" (aka "All Hallows Eve"), which is actually just an episode from their regular Saturday morning series in which Halloween turns out to be Jokey Smurf's and Gargamel's birthday. A similar-themed holiday called Spook-A-Smurf Eve was celebrated in "Monster Smurfs".
- The Donald Duck short Trick or Treat has a witch joining forces with Donald's nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie to get even with him after he pranks them on Halloween.
- Looney Tunes
- Beetlejuice: Beetlejuice and Lydia celebrate Halloween in "Laugh of the Party." B.J. lives things up with a Neitherworld product called "Party People In a Can."
- Punky Brewster had "Halloween Howlers." Glomer turns everyone who doesn't give him a treat into a jack o'lantern.
- Initially, the Danger Mouse episode "The Good, The Bad And The Motionless" tells straight away it's Halloween, and that Penfold is carving up a swede.
Colonel K: Good heavens, D.M., I didn't know he could play tennis.
DM: Tenni—oh, no, sir. Not Bjorn Borg, not that sort of swede. It's the vegetable kind.
- Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem takes place on Halloween and features Solomon Groundy (a zombie), Silver Banshee, and Silvercrow.
- The Raggedy Ann short "The Enchanted Square" takes place on Halloween, but it's not the focus of the story.
- It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a perennial favorite Halloween Special, with Charlie Brown and the gang trick-or-treating (Charlie gets a rock), Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, and Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.