Today's Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween is the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows' Day (also known as All Saints' or Hallowmas) on 1 November and All Souls' Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows' Eve (meaning the evening before All Hallows' Day). Since the time of the early Church, major feasts in Christianity (such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) had vigils that began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows'. These three days are collectively called Allhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven. Commemorations of all saints and martyrs were held by several churches on various dates, mostly in springtime.
In 609, Pope Boniface IV re-dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to "St Mary and all martyrs" on 13 May. This was the same date as Lemuria, an ancient Roman festival of the dead, and the same date as the commemoration of all saints in Edessa in the time of Ephrem.
The feast of All Hallows', on its current date in the Western Church, may be traced to Pope Gregory III's (731–741) founding of an oratory in St Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors".
In 835, All Hallows' Day was officially switched to 1 November, the same date as Samhain, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV.
By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing church bells for the souls in purgatory. In addition, "it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls."
The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century and was found in parts of England, Flanders, Germany and Austria. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Allhallowtide, collecting soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the dead, especially the souls of the givers' friends and relatives. Soul cakes would also be offered for the souls themselves to eat, or the 'soulers' would act as their representatives. As with the Lenten tradition of hot cross buns, Allhallowtide soul cakes were often marked with a cross, indicating that they were baked as alms.
The rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, saw many Halloween traditions appropriated by that holiday instead, and Halloween's popularity waned in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland.
From at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales.
From at least the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Wearing costumes and playing pranks at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century.
The word Halloween or Hallowe'en dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. The word "Hallowe'en" means "Saints' evening". It comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows' Eve (the evening before All Hallows' Day). In Scots, the word "eve" is even, and this is contracted to e'en or een. Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Hallowe'en. Although the phrase "All Hallows'" is found in Old English "All Hallows' Eve" is itself not seen until 1556.
Almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was widely celebrated in North America.
An almanac (also spelled almanack and almanach) is an annual publication listing a set of events forthcoming in the next year. It includes information like weather forecasts, farmers' planting dates, tide tables, and other tabular data often arranged according to the calendar. Celestial figures and various statistics are found in almanacs, such as the rising and setting times of the Sun and Moon, dates of eclipses, hours of high and low tides, and religious festivals. The set of events noted in an almanac may be tailored for a specific group of readers, such as farmers, sailors, or astronomers.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, young people in Glamorgan and Orkney cross-dressed.
Traditionally, pranksters used hollowed out turnips or mangel wurzels often carved with grotesque faces as lanterns. By those who made them, the lanterns were variously said to represent the spirits, or were used to ward off evil spirits. They were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in the 19th century, as well as in Somerset.
In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns.
In the 19th century, in some rural parts of England, families gathered on hills on the night of All Hallows' Eve. One held a bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the rest knelt around him in a circle, praying for the souls of relatives and friends until the flames went out. This was known as teen'lay. Other customs included the tindle fires in Derbyshire and all-night vigil bonfires in Hertfordshire which were lit to pray for the departed.
It was not until mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century that Halloween became a major holiday in North America.
While the first reference to "guising" in North America occurs in 1911, another reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.
The first recorded purpose-built haunted attraction was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House, which opened in 1915 in Liphook, England. This attraction actually most closely resembles a carnival fun house, powered by steam. The House still exists, in the Hollycombe Steam Collection.
The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but not trick-or-treating.
The earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appears in 1927, in the Blackie Herald Alberta, Canada.
In England, from the medieval period, up until the 1930s, people practiced the Christian custom of souling on Halloween, which involved groups of soulers, both Protestant and Catholic, going from parish to parish, begging the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the souls of the givers and their friends. In the Philippines, the practice of souling is called Pangangaluwa and is practiced on All Hallow's Eve among children in rural areas. People drape themselves in white cloths to represent souls and then visit houses, where they sing in return for prayers and sweets.
Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first US appearances of the term in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.
The yearly New York Halloween Parade, begun in 1974 by puppeteer and mask maker Ralph Lee of Greenwich Village, is the world's largest Halloween parade and America's only major nighttime parade, attracting more than 60,000 costumed participants, two million spectators, and a worldwide television audience of over 100 million.
On the evening of 11 May 1984, in Jackson Township, New Jersey, the Haunted Castle (Six Flags Great Adventure) caught fire. As a result of the fire, eight teenagers perished. The backlash to the tragedy was a tightening of regulations relating to safety, building codes and the frequency of inspections of attractions nationwide. The smaller venues, especially the nonprofit attractions, were unable to compete financially, and the better funded commercial enterprises filled the vacuum. Facilities that were once able to avoid regulation because they were considered to be temporary installations now had to adhere to the stricter codes required of permanent attractions.
According to a 2018 report from the National Retail Federation, 30 million Americans will spend an estimated $480 million on Halloween costumes for their pets in 2018. This is up from an estimated $200 million in 2010. The most popular costumes for pets are the pumpkin, followed by the hot dog, and the bumble bee in third place.
The haunted house as an American cultural icon can be attributed to the opening of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland on 12 August 1969.