Why do we celebrate with pumpkins, ghouls and other scary stuff on Halloween?

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Why do we celebrate with scary stuff on Halloween?

Is it your first time to celebrate Halloween in Canada?

You will see that Halloween is a fun and colourful celebration. There will be decorations of pumpkins, ghost cut-outs and rubber spiders. Kids and some adults wear costumes on October 31st. Kids also go trick-or-treating in the evening.

Halloween History, National Geographic

Here are the stories of how some of these Halloween symbols and activities came to be:

Carved pumpkins (Jack-o’-Lanterns)

Jack-o’-Lanterns are pumpkins with carved faces or designs. They are hollow and lighted from within. In the olden days, people used turnips and potatoes with a lighted candle. It came from an Irish folktale about Stingy Jack.

In the story, Jack tricked the Devil and trapped him. The Devil promised not to take Jack’s soul if he would set him free. Jack agreed. When Jack died, he did not go to hell. However, heaven would not accept him so he was left wandering all over the earth. He carried a candle inside a hollowed out turnip to light his way. Irish families would place turnip lanterns outside their homes so that Jack will not knock on their door. Immigrants brought this practice to North America. Pumpkins were used instead of turnips because they were abundant during this season. They were also easier to carve. This started the Halloween tradition of Jack-O’-Lanterns.


Halloween came from the Celtic festival called Samhain. On the eve of this day, Celts believed that spirits of the dead came back so they placed food and wine on their doorsteps for them. Celts also wore masks and costumes when they went out. They did this to look like ghosts so that the spirits would not bother them. This practice became the tradition of dressing up as scary characters during Halloween. Today, people wear other costumes besides ghosts.

Samhain was Christianized and became Hallowmas. Hallowmas is composed of All Hallow’s Eve (or Halloween, Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows, Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).


Witches are said to meet twice a year when seasons changed. They gathered on May Day Festival or Beltane (May 1) and on All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31). It is said that witches’ powers were at their strongest during Halloween. They can use magic on people and are able to change into different creatures on that night.

Ghosts and ghouls

Many believe that spirits roam the earth on Halloween night. This is why ghosts and ghouls became symbols of this holiday. All Hallow’s Eve is said to be the time when the division between the spirit world and natural world was so thin that ghosts could escape easily.


Trick-or-Treating is when kids knock on each door asking for candy. It came from the Celtic practice of souling and guising. Children (and poor adults) in costume would go to homes begging for food or money on All Hallow’s Eve. Afterwards, they would pray for the souls of the donor’s dead relatives. Souling became guising. Kids still begged for food and money, but they performed jokes, songs or other entertainment as payment.

Irish and Scottish immigrants brought this tradition to North America in the 1920s and 30s. It became “trick-or-treating.” But instead of entertainment, trick-or-treaters performed pranks. They would take off wagon wheels or put soap on windows. Homeowners began giving candy to stop the pranks. This is why people give candy to trick-or-treaters today.

How do you celebrate Halloween in your home country?

We hope that you’ll have fun this year and stay safe!
Article updated September 17, 2020.
Sources: History of Halloween, History.com; 12 Scary Halloween symbols and their origins, Lea Rose Emery, Ranker; History of the Jack-o’-Lantern, History.com; Halloween symbols: The Witch, Things that go Boooo; and Why do we go trick-or-treating on Halloween? Matt Soniak, Mental Floss; All accessed October 24, 2017.

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