Halloween may be known today as an annual celebration of creepy costumes and decadent candy, but it actually got its start a few thousand years ago as a Celtic farming festival in what are now known as the British Isles.
The Celts at that time celebrated their New Year on Oct. 31, and called their harvest holiday Samhain.
Legend has it that the Celts believed that the dead were able to rise from their graves and walk the earth on Samhain, so people would dress up in disguises -- such as animal skins -- to blend in among the spirits to avoid their wrath and mischief and ensure that their farming lands would survive through the winter.
When the Romans invaded and conquered Celtic areas, they combined Samhain with one of their own holidays to help assimilate the Celts to Roman rule. A few centuries later, the Romans converted to Christianity and looked to reconstruct the Pagan holiday for expansion throughout the empire. Thus, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs and called it All Hallows' or All Saints’ Day. The night before was recognized as All Hallows' Eve -- the precursor to the Halloween that we recognize today.
As for the carving of pumpkins, you can thank immigrants from the British Isles once again. There was an old custom in Ireland where children would carve turnips, beets and potatoes and craft lanterns out of them on All Hallows' Eve, to appease the spirit of Jack O'Lantern -- a man who was said to have been cast out by the devil to wander with a single coal in a hollowed-out turnip to light his way. Pumpkins were apparently more plentiful than turnips back in the day, and seemed to light a brighter path for Ole Jack.
However, what some call the best part of Halloween -- trick-or-treating -- evolved as America began to take shape and families looked to introduce child-friendly activities within their communities to celebrate the fall season before the long days of winter encroached.