Samhain is a Festival that was celebrated by the Celts – in a part of world that now encompasses Ireland, part of Northern France and the United Kingdom. Halloween is the other festival whose traditions are from Samhain.
Samhain is a religious festival that commemorated the end of summer and the harvest season. It also marked the beginning of the winter – and a time when the ghosts of the dead returned to mingle with their relatives. With the spread of Christianity, the strength of these beliefs faded and Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints Day. Eventually, it was called All Hallows Day and began to be celebrated as Halloween. Halloween spread to other countries and is now one of the most popular festivals in America.
The tradition of “trick-or-treat” began in England when poor people used to look for handouts of food and got cake and other kinds of food in return for their prayers. The church encouraged its parishioners to hand out soul cakes instead of leaving food and wine as was the practice – children eventually went around knocking on doors where people would hand out things like ale, money and/or food.
The tradition of using costumes has its roots in Europe. Since the prevailing beliefs held that ghosts came back to the earth realm, people would wear masks and unusual costumes to avoid being recognized. The ghosts would take them for kindred spirits and leave them alone and go looking for food left outside the doors of different homes.
With new immigrants bringing their traditions to American shores, various Halloween customs found their way into American culture. A distinctly different version of Samhain started in America and people found innovative ways to celebrate the harvest season and also dedicate this time to people who had passed on.
It is now considered a secular holiday and people host many theme parties and it is a time of great fun and costume parties for those who participate.