What are the origins of Halloween?

Why do we dress up as ghosts and witches in exchange for sweets on 31 October?

Children apple bobbing for Halloween, with an illuminated Jack-O-Lantern behind © Getty Images

Before it became the modern festival of pop-culture horror, Halloween was simply the evening before All Hallows Day – the Christian feast commemorating the dead, particularly saints and martyrs.

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Introduced in the early seventh century, All Hallows Day (or All Saints’ Day) was originally a celebration of rebirth in spring. But in 835 AD , the date was switched to 1 November in an attempt to Christianise earlier pagan harvest festivals.

One such celebration was Samhain, a feast marking the start of winter. This was believed to be a time when barriers between the worlds of the living and dead were broken, and significant offerings were made to the spirits of the departed – themes echoed in ghoulish Halloween celebrations today.

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Apple bobbing has been an autumn tradition for centuries and has now become a Halloween staple.