Grow: The History of Halloween
So you’ve probably noticed given all the spider web covered bushes and giant spiders in people’s front yards, that Halloween is fast approaching. Most of our major holidays have an easily discernible reason for existing. Christmas? Birth of Christ! Easter? Resurrection of Christ! Even Valentine’s Day has good old Saint Valentine marrying couples in love. Halloween is a bit complicated, so here’s a brief history lesson.
It is thought that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. On this day, November 1st, the Celts would have a festival and take stock of their supplies as they prepared for the coming winter. They believed that on the night before Samhain, October 31st, the boundaries between the living and the dead became less defined. As a result the spirits of dead people may have the opportunity to come back and cause problems for the living. Several Halloween traditions may be related to this belief. For example, it is thought that the Celts would dress like ghosts or wear costumes when going out on October 31st, in order to confuse the spirits. They may also have left gifts of food or wine on their doorsteps to appease the spirits.
When Christianity came to Ireland in the form of the Catholic Church, the priests felt understandably uncomfortable with this ancient tradition. The church had previously celebrated All Saints Day during the month of May. Also known as All Hallows, it was a day to pray to the Saints and pray for the souls of people who had recently died. Some historians believe the date was changed to November 1st in order to combat the pagan tradition of Samhain. All Hallows Eve, eventually shortened in to “Halloween”, was the night before All Saints Day. The American tradition of trick-or-treating may have come from the 9th century tradition of “souling”, where children would dress in costume and go door-to-door, offering to pray for a person’s dead relatives in exchange for food or coins. Or, it could be related to the 19th century practice of “guising”, where children in Ireland and Scotland would dress in costume and request a treat in exchange for performing a dance or song.
The first records of Halloween activity in the United States are from the early 1900’s. Halloween activities popped up in immigrant communities to start (many people from Ireland immigrated to the United States during the potato famine) and eventually spread to the surrounding areas. By the 1950’s Halloween was a generally recognized holiday in the US, and for most people had lost any former religious connotation (both being afraid of evil spirits or praying for dead souls). This brief but informative video is a good summary of the history of Halloween.
It’s also a great time to practice politeness: Make eye-contact! Actually SAY “trick or treat”! (I’m one of those annoying people who refuses to give the kids any candy until they say it). Say “thank you!” before you walk away. And don’t forget the most important rule of politeness – SHARE your candy with Daddy and Mommy. After all, we pay the mortgage.