Halloween in New Zealand

Halloween in New Zealand

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

When is Halloween in New Zealand?

Halloween is celebrated 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.

What is Halloween and where did it 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 American 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!

You’ll also want to check out our Halloween-inspired toilet roll crafts in Fun and easy craft ideas using toilet rolls.
Make a toilet roll haunted tower scene

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 websites 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 (just kidding)!

More Halloween fun

We have some great craft ideas too like our Spooky puppets, Recycled monsters and Magic potions. 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 upcycled tin ghosts and egg carton bats.

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