Halloween in New Zealand

The origins of Halloween

Tip toe quietly through the night, creeping cautiously, taking fright, ghostly ghouls and pumpkin lights, its Halloween time again tonight…

What is Halloween?

Halloween is a festival celebrated every year on October 31. It’s a great time for children to dress up in costumes and go door-to-door collecting sweets or money.

It’s celebrated in much of the Western world, in particular the United States and Ireland, but it has gained popularity in New Zealand over the last few years.

Where did Halloween come from?

Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), first celebrated almost 2000 years ago.

The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe’en, is shortened from “All-Hallow-Even”, as it is the evening before “All Hallows Day”. In Ireland the name was “All-Hallows Eve”. Halloween was also sometimes called “All Saints’ Eve”.

The Celts lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, and celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Thank goodness things are different today!

Celts believed that on October 31 when they celebrated Samhain, the night before their new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – briefly opening the way for the ghosts of the dead to return to earth.

Thus the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. Great!

Naturally, the still-living Celts did not want to be possessed! So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighbourhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.


Did it work? Perhaps. Although this unusual tradition is still celebrated today it is definitely not taken so seriously.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late-October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs.

Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 “All Souls’ Day”, a day to honour the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas and, eventually, Halloween.

There we have it, a centuries old tradition celebrated today although the emphasis is now on having some fun and receiving treats rather than avoiding being possessed by the dead! Thank goodness for that.

What about Halloween as we know it today?

Halloween celebrations have changed to become more ritualised – more about having fun rather than reliving an age-old superstition. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches became more ceremonial.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine.

The modern tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.

The giving of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given food and money.

How do we celebrate Halloween in New Zealand?

Halloween is not as popular in New Zealand as in other Western countries and in the past has not generally been celebrated here. However, Halloween is slowly gaining in popularity with some retail outlets actively promoting Halloween costume sales in recent years. As a result more and more children are participating in “trick or treating” each year.

Once they’ve got the costume, they’ve got to so something with it. So watch out for a knock at your door and perhaps be prepared with a few lollies!

If you are interested in celebrating Halloween in the more traditional and popular Amercian style, check out the websites listed below for some scary ideas your kids will enjoy.

Cool things to do for Halloween


Halloween the time that traditionally we plant pumpkins in New Zealand, rather than harvest them, so here’s How to grow a giant pumpkin!

We have some great craft ideas too like our Spooky puppets, Recycled monsters and Magic potions. You’ll also want to check out our Halloween-inspired toilet roll crafts in Fun and easy craft ideas using toilet rolls.

If you want to make some healthy creepy treats this year, how about our Spider muffins and Frothy blood jelly!

Or, for the little ones try these Halloween printables: Peppa Pig Halloween dot to dotPeppa Pig Halloween maze.

Keeping safe this Halloween

In most western countries Halloween is not complete without costumes, pumpkins, monsters, vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts, scary tales, haunted houses – a lot of this is becoming more popular in New Zealand, with more Halloween parties starting to appear each year.

Halloween can be a fun time for the kids but do take care. If your children are heading out on October 31 for a little trick or treating, be sure to join them, keeping an eye on them to ensure they’re safe. Safekids.org and the NZ Police both have great tips for keeping safe this Halloween.

By the way, you might also want to keep an eye out for ghosts and spirits of the dead sneaking around the darkening streets. Beware……you’ve been warned!

More Halloween resources

This website has some great ideas for masks and costumes, scary stories, screen savers and much more.

And this site has Halloween recipes, tips and tricks. Even includes how to turn your front yard into a realistic graveyard and build your own coffin! – Good grief, what next!

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  • pie

    what do new zealanders do for Halloween?

    • Hi Pie,

      Halloween is a bit mixed in New Zealand. Until fairly recently, Halloween wasn’t really ‘celebrated’ here but with the increase in American TV etc, there has been an increase in what happens. It tends to be fairly low-key and ad hoc, however, and many parents don’t really like their children going ‘trick or treating’.



      • Madarian

        Halloween is evil!!!!

        • bik guest

          I do agree. Halloween is certainly NOT a great time for anyone.
          The only reason it has gained popularity in NZ is because of the warehouse deciding to push it for commercial gain. Now other retailer are joining in and its become a thing.
          What people are ignorant of are the not so nice things that go on behind the scenes and believe me very real.
          But even of Penelope choose to ignore the unsavory aspects of Halloween and join in for a bit of fun. it promotes greed and foolishness.

          • bik guest

            penelope should read “people”

          • jesse

            I’ve seen Diwali celebrated here in NZ to great fan fare! Please don’t get all high and mighty about other folks celebrations. Guy Fawkes day isn’t a NZ Holiday and it is celebrated here. And don’t say that it’s been around longer. Hallowe’en has been around over 2000 yrs. Do some research.

  • Anna

    Hello, I’m wondering if you have a rough percentage of how many New Zealander’s currently celebrate Halloween. It would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

  • Sam

    Here, in Vancouver (Canada), it’s the one holiday where you can buy fireworks and launch them in the city. It gets crazy for the week previous and afterward, as number of people can’t respect the one day rule and you can be waken up by crackers in the middle of the night. Not to mention the numerous temporary fireworks stores. – It’s probably bigger than trick-or-treat here.

  • Lolla

    why do we copy the Americans?

    • From an American– I kind of wish America had a Guy Fawkes Day.

      • Jordan

        You do . . . but it’s called July 4th

        • John Flower

          It’s different. We are celebrating the successful catching of a terrorist. It’s the equivalent of catching Osama Bin Laden before the planes flew into the Twin Towers. We then burn an effigy of Guy to remind terrorists not to try any mischief…. else we’ll hang, draw, and quarter them. Although Guy had a nasty accident and broke his neck immediately prior to the punishment, the other terrorists were give the full treatment.

    • Heather Pennington

      it’s not only an american tradition, why are you so opposed to accepting other cultures ideas?

    • Eric Nicholls

      Not sure if you read the article but Halloween comes from the Celts that lived mainly in Ireland and the UK. Kiwis are British descendants so why not?

      • KF

        That’s a great point Eric. I don’t think its really a case of copying anyone. Halloween is just loads of fun. Its a great opportunity to hang out with your kids, do halloween inspired crafts, and dress up, and go a bit wild. And its also a great chance to get around and meet your neighbours, which can only be a good thing. — Jarrod

  • Marc Jansen

    The only mention of modern Halloween and America is that the custom was brought to America by the Irish in the 1840s? Whatever!
    Have fun with it parents, it’s about the kids anyway, What little girl does not like to dress up or boy playing anywhere?
    Some good old cartoons on line to watch as tv shows and movies. Bugs Bunny, Disney, Garfield, Charlie Browne, we’ll you get the idea. As for music, allot also from the likes of Werewolf of London, Monster Mash, or even movie tunes like Experiment in Terror! As for stories, being of the Empire, you must have a long history of horror stories!

  • Madarian

    Halloween is evil!!!!!

    • Jesse

      It’s originally a Catholic and Celt holiday. Not sure how you can call someone’s religious Holiday “evil”.

      • Madarian

        OH but now some christian churches don’t like Halloween.

  • Novie

    As an United States citizen about to visit your wonderful country for a year, I am very excited to see Hallowe’en gaining in popularity. It is my favorite holiday! The fall, the spooky and spirity nights! A celebration of change. I adore it! Am excited to expirience it in the spring this year! I think we are all copying, rather, joining the ancient Celts in celebrating change.

  • Marc Jansen

    It’s fun for kids! So of course it’s evil and American, I guess it is why so many are against it! Too bad because sadly it’s dying here in America also, thanks to the endless liberal stupidity that has to destroy everything associated with western or white America for whatever reason! Christmas? What’s that? Happy holidays!!!
    Once a great time and so much fun! I remember running home from school and getting ready with homemade outfits usually and heading out around four and not returning until eight and even a few times ten, with a paper grocery bag or a pillow sheet full of candy and even a few mischievous acts thrown in, Nothing bad of course! Again, sadly and for all the wrong reasons, it’s dying out as far as I can see! People don’t answer doors, the candy costs to much, and worst of all are the sickos who try to hurt kids, so now parents need to guard the kids, like it or not. Still, many communities try to really allow the kids to have fun and they seem to really enjoy it! Times change but if you allow them to make it their own, what great memories for everyone! Oh yea, watch some great tv shows like its the great pumpkin Charlie Brown! Tv sitcoms of the sixties were full of holloween episodes.
    Now about Thanksgiving! Every free people and democratic nation on earth should have it, again families get together, eat great food, and enjoy the time, usually. Can’t imagine going through life not having a thanksgiving day and celebrating God,country, and family. You don’t have God, national stories of your founders and families?

    • KF

      Thanks for your comments Marc. Yes it’s a shame when the fun-police get started isn’t it! We don’t actually have Thanksgiving in New Zealand. But we certainly do love to eat and drink and get together with family! — Jarrod

      • Opinionated Cat Lover

        My only real question, being an American who is in the process of immigrating to New Zealand, is how do you guys work the holiday into your seasons. Is it mostly celebrated intact, or does the fact that it’s mid-spring alter it any?

        • KF

          No, we just work it in. You’re quite right, pumpkins make no sense at the start of Spring. But you just wait until you go down to the beach on Christmas day after a full roast turkey! — Jarrod

          • Opinionated Cat Lover

            Christmas in Summer is sure going to be a shocker for us. We’re Coloradan (mountainous state in central US), so not only are we used to cooler weather for Christmas, we’re actually kind of attached to the whole snow and winter thing. :3

            But you guys have the whole Christmas in July thing too, right? A nice vacation to the South Island that time of year ought to make up for no snow in December. :3

          • KF

            Ha, yes in that case it’s gonna be a little different down here. Christmas is a huge celebration here as it’s right at the start of our summer holiday. It’s sort of like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break combined! You’ll love it.

  • Shahbaz Asghar

    i was not aware before that people in New zealand celebrates Halloween,

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