The History of Halloween

Posted on September 24, 2015

We take a look at the Festival of Halloween, and at what giftware retailers can do to make the most of the opportunity it presents.

Halloween – the very name these days has a pagan ring to it, conjuring visions of ghosts and ghouls, cobwebs and shrouds. Indeed although Halloween got its present name from the Christian liturgy, it is widely believed that the Feast of All Hallows is in fact a Christianisation of an ancient Celtic feast held at harvest time. A clue to its origins may lie in the names still used for Halloween in Gaelic and Welsh – “Samhain” and “Calan Gaeaf” – names for the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere winter. Since time immemorial this has been seen as a time when the spirits and fairies in which people firmly believed could more easily enter – and cause mischief in – the temporal world. And it’s this invasion of the mischievous spirits that lies at the heart of the way we celebrate Halloween today.

The name “Halloween”, a contraction of “All-Hallows Evening”, is first seen in about the middle of the 18th century. In the British Isles, the tradition of Guy Fawkes’ Night, in which the foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament is celebrated on 5th November with bonfires and fireworks, has tended to overshadow Halloween, so that it has always tended to have its greatest significance in North America and elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

Although the Festival of Halloween is intended to “remember the souls of the faithful departed”, it has entered our traditional life as the night on which, through the use of humour and ridicule, we confront the power of death. And although the feast, as we celebrate it today, is thoroughly secularised, certain of the Christian elements of the festival persist in at least symbolic form. For instance, the church insisted that it was a day on which believers should abstain from meat, and while that may no longer be strictly obeyed, we still pay lip service through the consumption of vegetarian foods such as apples, potato pancakes, cider, pumpkin and so forth. In Ireland, a dish called colcannon, made from potatoes and kale mashed together and seasoned, is strongly associated with Halloween celebrations. By tradition, the dish is often served with a ring and a thimble hidden within. As with the sixpence in the Christmas Pud, finding the ring or thimble is believed bring the finder good fortune in the coming year.

Halloween traditions include trick or treating, costume parties, bonfire burning and apple-bobbing. These Halloween traditions call for a good deal in the way of costumes and props, so the 31st of October ought to be a red letter day for any giftware retailer.

Trick or treat

Kids, of course, love Halloween. Originally known as “guising,” Trick or Treating first appeared in the 1920s in North America. At Halloween, so the story goes, the spirits and fairies find it particularly easy to enter the temporal world, and commit all kinds of mischief. Dressing up in as spirits and fairies from the “other world”, kids travel from house to house, confronting householders with the implied threat “trick, or treat?” Wise householders will stock up on treats in advance, and indeed many who want to participate wholeheartedly will decorate their doorsteps with all manner of props like skeletons, spiders’ webs and jack-o-lanterns. Every year Dormar Indents assemble a fresh collection of Halloween costumes and props to prepare our giftware customers for the Halloween season.

Kids’ Costumes

Let’s face it, children aren’t sticklers for tradition – they want to dress up in something naughty, and they’re less concerned about its Halloween authenticity than its novelty. And of course no Halloween outfit is complete without outlandish makeup. Every year Dormar Indents carries fresh stocks of Halloween costumes and face makeup, so every kid can create their own unique look.


Perhaps the most readily recognisable symbol of Halloween, the Jack-o-lantern is a hollowed out pumpkin fashioned into a lantern. Again the tradition began in Ireland, and in the Highlands of Scotland, where pumpkins and manglewurzels were used by Halloween “guisers” to light their mischievous paths. While children will never tire of making and swinging the real thing, the pumpkin’s shape lends itself ideally to the novelty balloon, making Halloween theming even easier.

Costume Parties

Trick or treating by the kids may be the most visible celebration of Halloween, but big kids want to play, too, and there’s a vigorous tradition of adults’ costume parties – a great retail opportunity for giftware retailers. The Halloween festival has recruited all of our favourite symbols of the spooky, the malevolent and the just plain weird. Themes include spiders and cobwebs, vampire bats, Count Dracula and even Morticia from the Addams Family. Dormar’s range includes every kind of Halloween themed costume, from nice fairies to naughty witches to ghastly ghouls, and at Halloween they fairly fly  off the shelves. And like kids, grownups like to go wild with the makeup, so we’ve got plenty – including fake blood. Make sure that you are well-stocked to cater for this year’s demand!

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