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Why Do We Celebrate Halloween?

In earlier Halloween celebrations people used to carve turnips!

Why do we celebrate Halloween? Who created this holiday? Where do pumpkins come from and why do we carve them? This week we're answering your Halloween questions with a professor of all kinds of scary and creepy things, Regina Hansen of Boston University.


The Celts, people who lived in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and some parts of France, used to have an autumn festival, Samhain [pronounced SAOW-en], meaning the end of summer. In other parts of the world, people were also celebrating the harvest.  In Mexico there is a festival called the Day of the Dead and in Italy they celebrated Pomona.

"Why do we celebrate Halloween?" - Kileigh, 8, Ontario and Maren, 7, Minnesota

At Samhain, the Celts had big bonfires and feasts and people would wear costumes. They'd all come together to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of the long, cold, dark winter. And part of the celebration of Samhain was thinking about people who came before them, people who had died.

Sounds a little bit like modern day Halloween.

Professor Hansen helps bridge the gap.

"These various people were celebrating their harvest or death festivals," she explains. "And what happened was the introduction of Christianity, which had it's own traditions which also had to do with honoring those who came before."

"When the Christians came to what are now Ireland, Scotland and Wales, they brought with them their traditions and [those traditions] got mixed up with the Celtic tradition of Samhain. And a similar thing happened in Latin America when the Christian missionaries came to those countries."

One of the ways the Christians tried to get these new people to become Christians was to kind of blend these other holidays, pagan holidays, into Christian traditions. Christians celebrated something called All Saints Day on November 1st, honoring people who had gone to Heaven. All Saints Day could also be called All Hallows Day. Hallow means holy.

So the day before All Saints day was All Hallows Eve, which eventually came to be called Halloween.

To find out why we carve pumpkins--instead of turnips--listen to the full episode!

Read the full transcript

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