The Ancient Origins of Halloween and Pumpkin Carving

Halloween is likely one of the most popular holidays in the United States. According to holidaysights.com, it is estimated that nearly 90% of children wear costumes and participate in Halloween traditions each year. In terms of nation-wide spending, Halloween is second only to Christmas.

While Americans spend millions of dollars on candy, decorations, pumpkins and more, this fun-filled and crafty holiday was not always this way. Halloween is a mix of religious and secular traditions, many of which predate Christianity.

Many of our current day Halloween traditions can be traced back to Celtic rituals. The most likely origin of the Halloween holiday itself is the Celtic belief in the Druid religion’s “Samhain,” their version of a god of death. The Druid New Year began on Nov. 1, so the Celts celebrated with a feast, also known as the “Feast of Samhain” on Oct. 31. Literally translated, Samhain means “summer’s end.”

Although turnip carving and lighting can be dated back to the ancient Greeks, it is believed that the Irish brought the tradition to America. Celtic people in Ireland carved turnips and lit them with embers from the New Year festival to ward off evil spirits. This custom is the historical root of Halloween pumpkin carving.

Irish immigrants also brought their tradition with them to America. In those days, pumpkins couldn’t be found in Ireland because they were native to the United States. As Irish immigrants came to America, they quickly discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve.

It is difficult to visit any American home in October, and not spot a pumpkin on the front porch. Every year, tricksters find pumpkins like these and smash them for fun. Perhaps the evil spirits warded off by the vegetables will follow them home.

(Written by guest contributor, Alexandra Olsen.)