Tracing the Colonial Roots of Halloween

The malls and department stores in the Philippines, particularly in Metro Manila, are cashing in on Halloween. They are adorned with cobwebs, bats and other creepy items while some of their workers are required to dress as witches or devils. This is their way of advertising the Halloween costumes that are very much in demand this time of the year. For those who want to throw Halloween parties as well as those who want to know more about the Halloween tradition, it is imperative to set the record straight as regards the occasion’s origins.


Entering malls or department stores of late, one finds himself face-to-face with witches or Jack o’ Lanterns. At any given time inside the mall or department store, one may rub elbows with ghosts, headless zombies or even Count Dracula. Indeed, the malls and department stores have joined the Halloween bandwagon.

One could get so fascinated with the Halloween motif that he or she would be lost on how the tradition came to be. Given their profit orientation, malls and department stores cannot be expected to enlighten the public on the matter.

Origins of Halloween

It is not yet known when exactly Halloween began to be observed, but it is said that the practice goes back more than a thousand years.

The Celts, a tribe in Ireland and the island of Great Britain, were the first to come up with a Halloween-like observance. They had a feast called Samhain which they observed on the exact day that Halloween is observed at present (i.e., October 31).

In the Celtic calendar, the new year begins on November 1. There is, in many Western and Eastern cultures, a fairly common belief that spirits roam around on the eve of a new year. The Celts were no exception.

Incidentally, November 1 is also known in Britain as the beginning of winter, and expectedly the Celts found their crops at the lowest point of growth at around this time. This may have contributed to the Celts’ perception that evil spirits were at work at the start of the new year.

The Celts observed Samhain to ward off evil spirits. They slaughtered cattle and used the latter’s bones to light huge fires. These were aptly called bone fires. (The latter is believed to be the origin of the English word “bonfire.”) With the bone fires ablaze, people extinguished all other fires in the community, and families lit their hearths from the common flame.

Roman invasion of England

England was invaded by the Holy Roman Empire in 100 A.D., and the Romans occupied it for the next 300 years.

They imposed on the Celtic inhabitants of England a variant of Christianity developed by the Empire from the creed of Jesus Christ’s followers who were persecuted for decades after his death (circa 33 AD). With the coming of the Romans, the Celts learned to observe Allhallows Day on November 1, a day for remembering important Christians who died. The day is now known as All Saints’ Day.

But the Celts retained some of their folk traditions, including that of giving importance to October 31. The Celts called the evening before November 1 Allhallows E’en or holy evening. This was later shortened to Halloween. The Celts continued the Samhain practices in their observance of Halloween.

The influence of the variant of Christianity brought by the Romans to England spread to other parts of Great Britain and eventually to Ireland. Roman Catholicism survived in much of Ireland, unlike in England, Scotland and Wales which were wracked by religious upheavals in the 16th century.

The U.S. then experienced a wave of Irish immigration in the 19th century. Irish immigrants introduced to the U.S. their unique culture, among them their observance of Halloween. The latter became popular and was assimilated into the mainstream American cultural scene.

In the latter part of the same century, experiencing a crisis of overproduction, the U.S. went on an expansion drive aiming to secure additional markets for its products. A number of Irish immigrants who became citizens became part of the invasion forces that the U.S. sent to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, among other countries.

Filipino Halloween as Colonial Influence

It was during the American colonial period that Filipinos were introduced to Halloween.

The idea of Halloween had no difficulty being accepted by Filipinos, the local folklore having its own share of ghosts and spirits.

Not too many people are aware of the origins of Halloween. Interestingly, its observance in the Philippines has become very popular.

Such popularity prompted malls and department stores in the Philippines, particularly in Metro Manila, to cash in on the annual tradition.

With all the hoopla surrounding Halloween, one is reminded of the crass capitalism that transformed revolutionary leader Che Guevara and protest musician Bob Marley into fashion icons of today’s generation. No thanks to the fashion capitalists, many people have taken fancy on their images without going into the substance of what they really fought for.

In the case of Halloween, it is important to know its historical context to see through the commercialism that blurred its well-meaning intention during the time of the Celts. (

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