Halloween’s International Roots

Ah, Halloween! That wonderful day of ghosts ruining crops, bonfires, turnips and the return of loved ones to the home!

Wait… did I say turnips? The dead returning? This all sounds like a grim George A. Romero remake of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes starring turnips as the famous veggies. So, what’s the story here? Well, it depends on where you are!

Early Origins of Halloween

Halloween traces its roots to mid-fall festivals commonplace around the world, but specifically those of the Celts. The original incarnation, Samhain, was the final night of the year and the beginning of winter. Spirits haunted the world and the Celts celebrated the event through sacrifice, worship and costumes.

The Irish

Tracing their lineage back to the Celts, the Irish people have a long and fantastic Halloween history. In Ireland, instead of the pumpkin, tradition held that a potato or turnip was carved with a scary or spooky face to ward off visiting spirits. The Irish further celebrated by going from house to house asking for food and money (and hopefully avoiding any cruel tricks).


Instead of trick or treating around the neighborhood, Canadians go around the neighbourhood. Probably looking for Coffee Crisp, Smarties, or the Stanley Cup.


Similar to Celtic Halloween traditions is the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Officially, festivities are held on Nov. 2nd, but they are celebrated for several days prior, including Oct. 31st. These are the Saints’ days, including All Saints’ Eve and All Saints’ Day, and they tracked fairly closely to indigenous celebrations of Mexico. Altars are built, loved ones that have passed on are celebrated, and homes are kept neat in case a visitor swings by to see how the family is doing.

The United States

Thanks to a variety of traditions, such as those of the Irish and Mexicans, Halloween has become a major holiday and the unofficial start of the holiday season. The gourds, the falling leaves, the creeping darkness and even the food-centered nature of the celebration all mark the quick arrival of several fall and winter holidays.

…and Beyond!

While a few countries have similarly borrowed Halloween from Irish immigrants, the vast majority of places where Halloween is celebrated generally take the American imagery of pumpkins, black cats, witches and candy and put a local spin on them. At the same time, many countries around the world take this time to honor the dearly departed and stay on guard for any malevolent spirits that might sneak in with their since-passed family.